Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, March 31, 2006

What Exactly Did I Get Myself Into?

by Candace E. Salima

The BLOGging world is quite an interesting one. Somehow, despite my best efforts, I have been swept up into BLOGland where I can emote to my heart's content. An interesting phenomena has occurred. BLOGS have taken the place of my daily writing exercise. Let me explain. I used to find a word or phrase every morning and spend five minutes free writing - meaning I didn't edit, I didn't think, I just wrote. It was great andgot the creative juices flowing. Now that I BLOG daily that writing exercise has been replaced.

So, there I was, doing my hair a couple of days ago contemplating what I would write on that day when the silliest thought occurred. Once it occurred, an entire story line poured into my head which I then ran by my husband and brother. They loved it and a new book was born. That's how easy it was. Then as I continued to contemplate, the next chapter for the book I was currently working on rectified itself as well.

How do I explain it? There has to be something to this blogging after all. So BLOG away my friends, it appears to be doing some good.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Time, Time, Time, What Have You Done to Me?

As an LDS mother of six children, who teaches at a university, serves in the community and writes books on the side, I’m often asked where I find the time to write. I always answer that you make time for what you love, which I believe to be true. If you don’t love it, you won’t make the time to do it. However, I do have to juggle sometimes and after talking with other authors about how they manage family life, employment, and writing, I thought I’d pass along some of my juggling strategies.

First of all, I carry paper with me wherever I go. Some people have laptops, tape recorders, whatever is handy, but I’m still a paper girl. (Probably from my days as a reporter and jotting all my notes on the steno pad!) Then when I’m sitting in the car waiting for carpool or at the doctor’s office, I can jot down ideas or plot points. I also get good ideas right before I drift off to sleep, but I still have a hard time writing in the dark! I’m getting better at deciphering my own, "I wrote this in the dark" handwriting though, which has helped.

When I am doing menial household chores, I imagine the scene I’m working on. I see the setting, the characters, and work it all through in my mind. Then when my preschooler is preoccupied with his favorite TV show, I have half an hour to run to the computer and write down everything I’ve been imagining. Obviously, this will go through rewrites, etc., but the important thing is getting it all down. (I also learned to type with one hand when I was nursing my babies and writing. It’s come in handy a few times! Not that I’d do it at a ward talent show, or anything, though . . .)

Be prepared to write with interruptions. As any parent will tell you, interruptions are to be expected, and they usually happen right at the good part, when you’re on a roll, when the story is just pouring out of you and you can’t type fast enough. I’ve learned to write in snatches, to be able to come back to the plot and not have lost the mojo. It’s tough, but do-able.

Make your writing time a priority, but be flexible with what works for you. Some people get up early in the morning to write, which doesn’t work for me. I have to get up plenty early as it is in order to get everyone ready for school and start my day, and I’m not really an early morning person. Sadly, my creative muse doesn’t seem to function properly early in the morning. Other people write late at night, but that doesn’t work for me either because my entire family is home at night and I’m anxious to spend time with my husband and children. I usually write during the day, with good music playing and the Caller ID handy so I can answer important calls and return other calls later. There are some days I don’t write at all, and other days I’m forever going to the computer or my notebook with ideas, scenes, and plot lines. It really comes down to what works for you and your family.

Give yourself a deadline. As a former journalist, I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. I love them because they give me a date to shoot for, a goal to be met and being the person I am, I will kill myself to make that deadline. I hate it because it puts pressure on me, but the reality is, I generally work well under pressure. I always make it a reasonable goal or deadline, though, so I don’t have to go through any perfectionist self-hatred if I don’t quite meet the deadline. Be gentle with yourself.

Most of all, know your priorities. If you need to be with your children, enjoy that time. If you have job responsibilities, that’s okay. Writing is something that can nourish your soul and feed the creative flame and it will be there when you’re ready. Just don’t leave it too long—make time for what you love.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Art of Making Art

(Rob Wells has been very very sick lately, and therefore is a day late. If you want to bring a casserole over for him to eat, he wouldn't mind at all.)

by Robison Wells

Art isn't easy,
Even when you're hot.
Advancing art is easy--
Financing it is not.
A vision's just a vision
If it's only in your head.
If no one gets to see it
It's as good as dead.

-- "Putting It Together", Sunday in the Park With George

I recently had to make some significant changes to my manuscript. And by "significant", I mean "major", and by "major" I mean "rewriting the whole freaking thing".

On the Association for Mormon Letters' listserv, Andrew Hall recently wrote a synopsis of the LDS fiction market. In it, he explained that the growth the market reached its peak in 2004, and is on a slight decline for the first time in six years. (The numbers, if you're interested, show growth from 50 total fiction titles released in 2000 to 118 titles in 2004. 2005 dropped back down to 104 -- not lousy, certainly, but it's making publishers rethink their strategies.)

One of the problems they've pinpointed with the fast growth has been the influx of a huge number of new authors -- and it's very difficult to get name recognition, and therefore repeat sales. So, publishers are once again cutting back on the number of manuscripts they'll accept, and stores are cutting back on the number of titles they'll purchase.

The consequence of all this is that I had to do a couple of things to make my manuscript a little more marketable. My publisher still accepted it, and we signed the contracts and were very happy with each other, but they wanted a certain amount of changes made.

Specifically, humor just ain't selling. (This isn't restricted to the LDS market -- humor novels don't sell very well nationally, either.) The problem is that my novel, which is humorous suspense, is the sequel to my previous book, which was also humorous suspense. And when you're writing a sequel, you can't exactly switch genres. That'd be like making Empire Strikes Back a teen slasher/horror movie, or making Die Hard II into a chick flick. It's inconsistent, and it betrays your audience.

So what we decided was that the book would remain humorous suspense, but marketed as straight suspense: no goofy title, no happy pictures on the cover. Just a lot of serious suspenseful stuff, and then when you read it, you say "Hey -- this is funny!"

Anyway, other marketability issues came up, and I ended up rewriting the whole carn-sarned book: from the original manuscript I submitted last June, only four chapters remain unchanged. The characters are all the same, and they all have the same motivations, but the plot has been altered profoundly.

And generally when I tell this to my idealistic (and generally unpublished) author friends, they tell me I've sold out to the Man, and my artistic integrity is weakened. And I reply that if I'd actually sold out, then I'd expect a whole lot more money than I got, and that my artistic integrity wasn't all that strong to begin with.

But seriously, there's a whole lot more to writing a book than just being an artist. You have to be a businessman and a salesman and a marketer. People who don't realize this usually remain unpublished.

I think it's easy, especially in the LDS market, to blame publishers; expect them to publish whatever we send because it's just so dang good. I've heard LDS authors say that LDS publishers need to be more focused on spreading good LDS fiction, for "the building up of the Kingdom". But the facts are these, folks: publishing is a business, not a philanthropic organization. And people buy the books that are marketed well, which (unfortunately) aren't always the books that are the best-written.

And would I change it? Not at all. On each of my three novels I've had to make changes, and the book has always turned out better than what I originally submitted.

And that is the state of the art.

The Hermit Crawls Out of Her Cave

by Stephanie Black

I’m a world-class blusher. It’s not one of my favorite quirks. There I’ll be at the checkout counter, smiling casually, speaking calmly, ha ha, don’t credit card companies make the darndest mistakes, here, use this card instead, and meanwhile my face is doing this neon beet routine that flashes the message: “Hey! This woman ISN’T cool and calm like she wants you to believe! She’s embarrassed!” (And for the record, the credit card mix-ups weren’t my fault). There’s probably a limit on how brightly one can blush before one’s facial capillaries sustain permanent damage, so out of fear of exceeding that limit, I’ve stayed away from writing critique groups.

When it comes to the process of creating a story, I’m a very solitary writer. OK, I’m neurotic. If someone walks behind me while I’m at work on a novel and I think there’s the tiniest chance that they might—horrors!—be able to read a word or two on the screen, I hit the button to minimize the open window. After years of practice, I can do this so quickly that the hand motion is invisible to the naked eye. I could take the Olympic gold at window-minimizing. I’m so neurotic that I can’t even write an e-mail if someone is standing behind me (unless the person is a child too young to read). It’s not that I don’t want people to read my writing. Goodness knows I’m hoping that everyone on planet earth will eventually read my novel. I just don’t want anyone crawling into my brain while I’m writing it.

But outside feedback on a manuscript is invaluable. I wouldn’t dare submit a manuscript until at least a couple of pairs of eyeballs other than mine have read it and given it the thumbs up (OK, that’s some seriously mixed-up imagery, but you know what I mean). When I start feeling that hankering for feedback I know the time has come to crawl out of the writing cave. This is never, ever, on the first draft. My first drafts are a mess. And this brings up a side note. I love the Little House books. Absolutely love them. But the last book in the series, The First Four Years, was published after Laura Ingalls Wilder had died. The book was found among her papers, written in notebooks, and it was published. In my opinion, the book is not nearly as compellingly written as the other books because Laura never had time to revise it. It’s a draft! A draft! Aarrgh! Writers, would you approve if your descendants did this? If I die and my great-grandkids are going through my computer and find the first draft of a novel and publish it, let me tell you, I’ll be back to do some serious haunting. Of course, I don’t have to worry about this happening, because no publisher would touch one of my first drafts.

Anyway. My current manuscript (draft three) is now in the hands of people who aren’t me and I am awaiting feedback. I’ve told my readers to be honest. That’s the point of getting pre-submission feedback—so you can fix your mistakes before they appall your editor. But as I hide my head under my pillow and await the reports, I’m hoping that this honest feedback won’t include phrases like, “Nice try, but bleccch.” Or “Well, your first book was OK, but this one . . . (gales of uncontrollable laughter).”

At least I’ve passed the first test. My twelve-year old daughter was the first to read the manuscript all the way through. She read it in three days, and from what I could discern in the seven thousand times I peeked at her while she was reading, I’d say she seemed more or less glued to it. “Do you like it?” I couldn’t resist asking her midway through the book. She gave an eye-rolling response along the lines of, “No, Mom. I hate it. I’m forcing myself to read it.”

OK, OK. Once a neurotic author, always a neurotic author.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Can you

By Jeffrey Savage

Wow, long but fun weekend. Two days of the LDStorymakers conference was a blast, but doing an early morning writer’s boot camp was exhausting. (6am Saturday morning is just wrong to be doing anything other than sleeping or fishing.) Add two book signings and trying to get my second Shandra book done and it’s just over the top.

So let’s have some fun today and play a game. I first heard about this game in a Stephen King novel (I’ll buy lunch for anyone who can name the novel) and have enjoyed it ever since. It’s especially fun for writers, because our goal is to put our characters into untenable situations before rescuing them in a believable fashion.

So here’s the deal. The game is called “Can you?” I’m going to start by placing our heroine Pauline Peril in a situation that seems to have no possibility of escape. Then the next person carries the story forward by getting her out in a believable fashion and putting her into a new peril. Each person gets her out of one jam and into another. The rest of us decide if the escape was believable.

An example might be that Pauline is caught bathing in the middle of a lake full of ravenous crocodiles. Her gear is all on the far side of the lake. You can’t have a ski doo suddenly pop out of the water. But you could have her use her glasses (which she always wears while bathing in case she wants to read a good book) to signal a nearby helicopter which swings down to rescue her.

Make sense? Okay, let’s give it a try.

Fighting her way through the humid Amazon jungle, in search of the famed lost diamond of Ichuinchihuah, Paula heard the warning growl of a nearby jaguar. It sounded hungry and she was in no mood to be lunch. Holding her rifle, she eased back into the bushes when, without warning. something closed around her ankle and swung her into the air. As a strong vine whipped her up and through the bushes, her rifle was knocked from her hands and her backpack was ripped from her shoulders.

“Nice flight?” said a voice from below. It was the evil Dr. Homicidus.

“You,” she growled, assessing her situation. She was hanging by her feet nearly 100 feet in the air from a vine looped over the branch of a Bunya Bunya tree. The other end of the vine was tied to a stake in the ground. “Let me down before I shred you like cheddar cheese.”

“I don’t think so,” Dr Homicidus chuckled. “You see, you are currently suspended above a pit 30 feet long by 30 feet wide. Although you may not be able to see it from your current height, the pit is lined with thousands of tiny darts. Each dart is coated with the deadly poison of the Strawberry frog. Just in case the fall doesn’t kill you, which it most assuredly will, the poison will certainly do the job.”

“Not a problem,” Pauline said with more bravado than she really felt. “I’ll just climb the vine up to the tree branch and make my way down.”

“You could.” Dr Homicidus grinned. “If I didn’t do this.” Hefting a metal five gallon can, he soaked his end of the vine with gasoline.

“I believe you have roughly 30 seconds after I light this before the vine burns through, plunging you to your death. I personally won’t be here to see it as I abhor graphic violence but my faithful servant Rapi who is both deaf and mute will stand guard with his powerful 20/20 hunting rifle to make sure you don’t do anything tricky.”

With that, he lit a match dropped it to the vine and disappeared in the jungle. His final words were, “Ta ta.”

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Voodoo and Blood Sacrifice

By Sariah S. Wilson

Writers are a little weird. But you already knew that, right?

I’m no exception. I have weird writerly rituals that I do.

Like right now I’m trying to finish a novel by April. I have at least another 20,000 words to go. I’m trying to make myself write about 2,000 words a day which, while it may sound easy, is a difficult thing to do. Real life keeps getting in the way. Sometimes I just sit here in front of my computer because I can’t think of what the next line should be or a good hook for the end of a chapter. Other writers I know can write scenes in various order and then slap it all together later. I can’t do that. I have to write the book in chronological order so if I get stuck, I’m really stuck.

I do something very strange to get unstuck. And it always works. I take a shower.

I read this book once, something about how water had these negative ions which stimulated creativity. The author talked about how she kept a waterproof notepad and pen in the shower for the ideas that came to her. I thought it sounded dumb. But I tried it anyway.

I’m telling you, it works.

When I started telling other people about it, after they finished looking at me strangely, I got surprising responses. My father admitted that the parody songs he writes mainly came to him in the shower. My husband talked about how he thought of resolutions to difficult programming problems in the shower. I shared this information at my local writers’ group and at the following meeting a published author came up to tell me that the water thing worked for her as well. I hear whole scenes of dialogue in my head while in the shower, and if stuck in a chapter, can always come up with a way to write around it. Supposedly taking a bath or sitting by a fountain or waterfall has the same sort of effect, and if I ever clear a space on my desk I think I’ll get one of those desktop fountains.

But the water thing is not my only weirdness. I light a candle each time I sit down to write. It’s a way to signal to my brain that I’m serious, we’re writing now. Each book has its own scent - the last was cucumber melon, this one is mountain berry. I also listen to the same songs over and over again, hoping that it will cue my mind to understand (again) that we’re writing now. I’m currently listening to Nick Lachey’s “What’s Left of Me” (which makes me want to find Jessica Simpson and bop her on the head) and Cascada’s “Every Time we Touch.” For the romantic scenes between my hero and heroine, it is Stephen Speaks’ “Out of My League.”

Fortunately, I know I’m not alone in my little rituals. Many writers have shared with me their own quirky things they do when they write. I also recently started to read a book called “The Midnight Disease.” It's about writers who have a problem with their temporal lobe and have a reaction called hypergraphia. It’s a compulsion to write. You can’t stop yourself if you have it. You absolutely must write, and you must fill pages upon pages upon pages. As disorders go, I’m thinking it wouldn’t be such a bad one to have. Especially when you only have another couple of weeks to finish a novel.

What about you? Do you have strange things you do to spark your creativity?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Lies, Spies, and All Those Dreamy Guys

One of the cardinal rules of writing is to write what you know. But what does a stay at home mother of six know about spies, espionage, and international criminals? Well, with five boys and only one daughter, I actually know more than you would think. (You can’t believe what kind of seemingly innocent situations our family has gotten into! Can I just apologize to that poor policeman one more time?)

But seriously, what if you want to write about something that you haven’t had personal experience with and you have no idea on how to start? First, you should take stock of what you know and who you know. If you don’t know much, you do research. It would be a lot easier if you’d actually been in a situation with government agents and terrorists, but then you’d probably be a guest on Larry King and CNN , not to mention fielding multi-million dollar publishing offers for your story. Sadly, I never seem to be in the right place at the right time, so neither Larry nor CNN has called. I am forced to do research for my books until then, but hey, you never know what tomorrow will bring. Luckily, I do know a few people that are willing to share experiences and I draw upon that. Everyone has a story to tell, believe me. (Some I didn’t want to hear, but when they find out you’re a writer, it just spills out! Seriously!) My grandmother was a senator in the federal government of Canada and so I had an in on some government workings there, to add some authenticity to my novels and the CSIS agency in Canada. Of course it was all fictionalized in my novel, but some of it is always real.

And speaking of some of it always being real, people always ask me how I come up with my bad guys and I’ll tell you another secret of mine. I just squashed together every person who’s ever been mean to me and made them into the criminal masterminds, with all their little quirks. So if you’re someone who’s done me wrong, and you’re reading my books, you might be able to guess who you are! Or not. That’s the other cardinal rule of writing—never get on the bad side of a writer or you’ll probably end up in one of their books and it won’t be a good thing.

So, the liars are all my sworn enemies, the spies are from my research and imagination, and that brings us to the dreamy guys. First of all, let me tell you I am happily married to a very romantic man, so that makes coming up with my heroes quite easy. Most of them are based on him—I know, you’re rolling your eyes, but it’s true! If you knew my husband, you would see why. But I digress. If you don’t have a dreamy guy in your life, you can take author license and squish together Matthew McConaughey’s smile, with Patrick Dempsey’s hair, and George Strait’s voice, you get the picture. Or, you could just make him an average guy, who happens to be a spy (hey, that rhymes!) Whatever you decide to do, always be sure to give your hero (or heroine) a little quirk or something to work on, so they’re not perfect and a little more believable. You want the audience to root for the character and be able to identify with them. But keep in mind that’s why they’re "dreamy" and that’s why this is a fiction novel—so the women will swoon, and the men will be inspired.

So you now know another one of my secrets—when I am doing dishes or cleaning toilets, my mind is far away, with lies, spies, and dreamy guys. And if you see me patiently listening to an animated person tell me about their wild experience with a beaver in their back yard, please come and rescue me. I’ll make you into one of the good guys in my next book—I promise!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

It's Thrilling to Meet You (I Hope)

by Stephanie Black

When I have a fashion question, I consult my teenage daughter. These shoes or those shoes? Does this shirt look OK? Sometimes—surprise!—she volunteers advice without my asking for it. Life is full of little bonuses.

So, stumped on what to blog about, I asked her advice. She replied, “Give tips on how to avoid character infodumps.” Not what you’d expect a fourteen-year-old to say, but she’s accustomed to listening to me rant about writing technique in connection with books I read (“Pretty good story, but those mid-scene viewpoint shifts drove me nuts.”). So on advice from my daughter, I’m designating infodumps as the topic of the day. And one footnote here: I’m talking about infodumps as they relate to the modern suspense/thriller/mystery, not making sweeping statements about every literary style known to man.

The character infodump consists of a big block of summary about a character and his/her situation, usually written by way of introduction. It’s “telling”, not “showing”. Now, there are times when showing would be so onerous that it would tilt the story off balance and slow the forward motion of the plot. You can’t show everything in real time. But in my humble, freely shared, and slightly obnoxious opinion, infodumps ought to be avoided as a way to introduce a character and his/her situation.

When I pick up a novel and start reading, I want two things.

1—I want a character to care about. Who am I rooting for and why should I care what happens to him/her?

2—I want to be swept immediately into the plot and start living the fictive dream.

An infodump offers me neither of these things. Here’s the kind of text I’m talking about.

Chapter 1

“The bright morning sunlight streamed through the window. John sat at the kitchen table, staring into his Cream of Wheat and wondering if Mary was still mad at him. His ears were still ringing from last night’s shouting match.

Their marriage had been troubled ever since Mary won the regional squirrel-calling contest in June. Mary had always loved squirrels. John had no use for them, particularly when they raided his prize birdfeeder, but he’d tried to support Mary in her interests. But when she’d started spending hours in the backyard, chattering away to the furry menaces, John had started to feel neglected. He particularly needed Mary’s support now that things were going badly at work. His boss had disappeared under mysterious circumstances and John had started receiving threatening notes. But all Mary seemed to care about were her squirrels.

It wasn’t that John didn’t appreciate nature. He’d first met Mary at the Phoenix Zoo, where they were both standing outside the lion’s vast enclosure, squinting at the rocks and brush and trying to determine if there really was anything alive in there (it was possible, John thought, for a zoo enclosure to resemble the wild a little too much). Mary had been wearing jeans, a red T-shirt and white sandals. She’d turned to ask him if he could help her find the zoom button on her camera and he’d been entranced by—”

And so forth. The problem with an infodump introduction is that it gives me information on characters I don’t yet care about and it doesn’t hook me with the real-time action of the plot.

I want to care. I really, really want to care. I want to be hooked. I want a book that I can’t put down. I might be mildly interested in John’s mental meanderings, but believe me, I can set the book aside at this point without a flicker of regret, no matter how much the author TELLS me that he’s having interesting troubles. He’s not real to me yet.

So don’t start the story with John glowering into his breakfast cereal and thinking about his problems. Show me his problems. Show me the conflict. Bring Mary onstage. Let John try to tell her about the newest threatening message he’s received. Let her dismiss it with contempt and turn the conversation back to squirrel-calling. Show them arguing. Give me a few internalizations so I know what John is thinking during the conflict. Then you don’t have to tell me that their marriage is troubled or that Mary is squirrel-obsessed and self-absorbed or that John is scared about the mysterious happenings at work. I’ll know all these facts because you unfolded them right front of my eyes.

I don’t just want to know the facts of John’s situation. While I read the book, I want to BE John. If he’s nervous, I sweat. If he’s frustrated, I grind my teeth. If Mary insults him, I feel his pain. This kind of character identification comes through vivid, riveting scenes and characters who reveal themselves through their words, actions and internalizations. It doesn’t come through blocks of summary explaining how John arrived to this point in his life.

This is not to say that you can’t add background. Bring it out in interesting threads, woven throughout the plot. Throw in some nuggets that will enrich John's character and help me understand him. Once I care about John and have identified with him to the point that I’m living his story, I don’t mind if he sits for a moment and thinks about meeting Mary at the Phoenix Zoo and her troubles with her camera. I’m interested because now I care.

That's my two cents. Now for the next pressing topic: can I wear my black socks with my navy pants? If my shoes are brown, does that change the answer?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I love you madly, madly, Madam Librarian

by Robison Wells

I’ll begin today with the preface that this blog might offend some of you. And furthermore, if it does offend you, then so much the better, because you’ve had it coming for a long time, wise guy.

Last week, Julie Coulter Bellon wrote about how she loves books and reading and bookshelves and public libraries. I replied that I really don’t like public libraries, and I have since received inquiries into that position. This blog ventures to answer that question. So climb aboard the Self-Discovery Express, as we journey deep into the psyche of a Library Hater.

I started down the writing road a little differently from many authors. I never liked English in high school. I never won elementary school essay contests. I wasn’t born with a pencil in my hand, and I wouldn’t suffocate if I didn’t write all the time. Authors who say those kinds of thing are pretentious and mentally stuck in freshman drama class.

On the contrary, I never even liked writing until college. For that matter, until college I never really liked books at all. I was never bad at reading and writing – I just found them a little distasteful. Ultimately, I think it was Huckleberry Finn that changed my mind. Several years after bluffing my way through eleventh grade English, writing essays and taking tests on the book that I had never actually read (and getting grades that matched my effort), I found an old copy and a spare day, and read the thing from cover to cover. I suddenly realized that maybe English wasn’t so bad, and maybe there was a reason that classics are classics. (Then I read The Grapes of Wrath, and was proved wrong.)

Anyway, my point is that I never grew up towing my little red wagon to the library, loading up on Charles Dickens and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, finding glee and excitement in my very own library card! Truth be told, I only ever went when I followed my brother to satisfy his literary sweet tooth, and I always just checked out the same books about model railroads, over and over. So my love of libraries (and, oh my goodness, do I have one) was spawned in college – at the U of U’s Marriott Library.

Let me elucidate a few of the differences between the Marriott Library and the public library.

Okay, so there’s only one, but it’s all encompassing: the Marriott Library is quiet, while the public library is a frickin’ train station.

Oops. I forgot that there’s a second reason: the Marriott Library has lots and lots of books, while the public library has inter-library loans. If I wanted to wait a week to get my book, I would... well, I’d just go to another library.

But back to reason number one. Have you ever been to Salt Lake City’s Main Library? The big curvy architecturally-pleasing building on Fourth South? It’s magnificent and beautiful and full to the brim with people who never were taught how to use their Inside Voices. And ever since the advent of the internet, every computer terminal is clogged with vagrants and bored teenagers surfing the web, day trading and playing Hearts with people in Sweden.

And (and this is where people will get mad) if I’m there to research something important, like how a helicopter works, or what really happens if you give a mouse a cookie, I don’t want to be invaded by dozens of kids whose parents seem to think that a few hours running around the library will make their kids love books more than they love Halo 2.

Now granted, I love kids – I even have a couple myself – and my daughter loves books, and my son loves chewing on books. But I never have made the mistake that the library is the babysitter or the amusement park or the torment-Rob-while-he’s-reading-about-mice-and-cookies place. It’s a library, people. We go there to read, not socialize. If you need a place to gab, come to the movie theater and sit behind me.

My library philosophy is ultimately a pragmatic one. I’m there to read and study. If you’re not there to read and study, then go somewhere else. Actually, don’t bother getting up, because this library didn’t have what I was looking for anyway – what with the big lack of books and all.

What it all boils down to is that I love me some books. I love having the wisdom of the ancients at my fingertips; tomes of forgotten lore just waiting to be rediscovered. I love to sit and read and read and read. And I love to do it all in silence, surrounded by quiet people – or, better yet, no one at all. This is the reason I dislike the public library.

So, in conclusion: I hate children, noisy people, teenagers, vagrants, and pretentious authors. (I also hate Mennonites and everyone named Steve.)

No, I don’t. The public library and I have come to an understanding: I don’t bother it, and it won’t bother me. I don’t check out its books, and it won’t give me late fees. And in the interest of full disclosure, I must report that every single time I break my side of the bargain, the library’s retribution is swift and merciless. Any day now, the library is going to send out a big Italian guy named Guido to break my kneecaps.

Crap. Now I’ve offended the Italians, too.

Seat Taken

This weekend I’ll be teaching a couple of courses on writing to a conference with over 70 LDS writers attending. I’ll be teaching this class despite the fact that every LDS publisher I know (and many national publishers) are cutting back on the number of novels they publish to the extent that they are turning down novels by some of their own established authors. Does that make sense? Why encourage new authors to enter a marketplace that already seems saturated? Are we encouraging people to board a bus whose seats are filled to capacity?

In a word, no.

How can I say that? Because there is always room for a different writer, a better writer, or a new idea. In just the last year I have seen half a dozen new writers publish for the first time with DB, Covenant, or Cedar Fort. I have seen new styles, new ideas, great characters, and if not “new” genres, at least a new take on the old genres. And frankly, it excites the heck out of me.

Of course it’s great to have writers we have known and loved for many years. I have literally mourned when an author I know and love stops writing or passes away. It saddens me to know I will never read another of their books. It’s like having a favorite restaurant close its doors.

Yet, while it’s great to enjoy and re-enjoy your favorite dish, no matter how much I like chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and country gravy, I don’t want to eat it every day.

How cool is it to enter the doors of a restaurant you’ve never tried before and to discover a dish that just blows you away? In other words to discover a favorite dish for the first time. It’s just as cool to discover a new writer whose work you love.

If you are an aspiring writer and you get a little overwhelmed by all the competition, remember that every author out there had to write a first book. Every author had to break into the field. And every year authors are publishing for the first time with every major publisher out there.

You have a voice now one has ever experienced, a story no one has ever heard. Serve your dish and see how it’s received. And while you’re doing it, how about trying a new author.

Just as an FYI, two books I would like to highly recommend. The first, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, was a big surprise to me because I was expecting some kind of metaphysical be-a-better-you, mumbo jumbo disguised as a novel. Instead I found a book that can be read in less than three hours that hit every emotional nerve I possess with obviously yanking a single string. When I finished it, I gave it to at least a dozen people and everyone of them loved it. You can also rent the movie done by Hallmark. It is just as good as the novel.

The second book, is by an author I usually only read when I’m stuck at the airport. Dean Koontz usually reads like a fast food burger and fries. He gets the job done. But nothing he writes really stands out from the last thing he wrote. However, his novel, Life Expectancy, was a joy. It is a novel that will make you laugh out loud in the middle of truly suspenseful scenes. I kept expecting a let down (there’s no way he can keep this up all the way through) but I never was. It is a story both tender, frightening, and hilarious.
Try either one and you won’t be disappointed.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A Glass Slipper-y Slope

by Sariah S. Wilson

I love Cinderella.

Scholars are uncertain how many versions of Cinderella exist from all over the world (and yes, there are people who study these things). The earliest recorded version is from the ninth century A.D. in China (hence the whole Cinderella having small feet). Scholars have found versions from Vietnam, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Germany, Australia, Bulgaria, France and the Algonquin Indians, among many others.

So why do modern women hate Cinderella so much?

You know who I’m talking about. The ones who absolutely refuse to ever let their girls wear pink. Who if they actually do read them fairy tales alter the endings so that Cinderella goes to Harvard instead of marrying the prince. Know what happens? Their precious darlings rebel. They want to wear ball gowns and a tiara and watch the Disney Princess DVDs over and over again. Their mothers are dumbfounded. Why despite all their best efforts, do their daughters dream of their own handsome prince and living in a castle?

The moms aren’t the only ones who don’t understand. Hollywood doesn’t either. Two years ago a movie called “The Prince and Me” came out. From the previews alone, I knew I would love this movie.

The movie was pitch perfect. The story built believably and well. The two leads had a great chemistry together. Lots of laughs, great black moment, the perfect proposal. Then the heroine decides she doesn’t really want to be a princess and wants to be a doctor instead. All the women around me gasped, asking why she was so stupid. Not one woman stood up and said, “You go girl!” The heroine came off as a spoiled little brat, who when her fiance had just been crowned king, while his father was dying, when he really needed the woman he loved, she decides she’s more important than anything else. She wasn’t empowering. She was selfish and annoying. I’m watching it thinking, “What, there’s no medical schools in Denmark?” Or if her concern was helping the underprivileged medically in foreign countries, she would have been able to do more good, raise more awareness and more funds for those people as the Queen of freaking Denmark than she would have as just a doctor.

Then the ending leaves you hanging. You sort of assume they’ll get back together, but you’re not really sure. The girl could have another “it’s all about me” moment and leave. (They apparently tried to rectify this situation by creating a mind-numbingly bad sequel, with only the actor who played the prince returning, and based on his performance I have to surmise that someone was holding his mother hostage and forcing him to do it.)

I would like to tell writers to stop screwing up the formula. I know it’s why people dismiss romances - they’re formulaic. Yes, they’re formulaic that in the end the couple is either married or going to get married and they’re happy. But other genres are formulaic too. In a mystery someone dies and the protagonist figures out who did it and why. In a suspense thriller, someone bad wants to do something that will hurt people and the good guy has to race the clock to stop said nefarious plans and emerges triumphant in the end. But the formula ends in the telling of the tale. Everyone has their own take on the formula, and it’s the journey that makes the story the most enjoyable.

Cinderella’s journey has spoken to women for thousands of years. Her influence and stories aren’t going anywhere, which makes a happy ending person like me very, very happy.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Through the Thick and Thin of a Writer's Life

Over the past few weeks I haven't felt much like a writer. With deadlines looming on two different books, promotions on another and events which I cheerfully (and with a certain degree of insanity) agreed to mastermind, I wonder what happened to the that relatively easy time before I was unpublished. Hmmm, would I trade it? Not for one second!

You see, regardless of what goes on once a writer has become published they have a responsibility to the readers of their work, whether they be publisher or consumer. So, while I take my husband from one doctor's appointment to the next, the back of my brain is constantly working on plot problems, motivation and the serious lack of time.

For the first year, I was up at 4:00 a.m. drinking ice water or hot chocolate, depending on the time of year, hair in every direction, clad in my wrinkled pajamas, merrily pounding away on the keyboard on one book or the other. Sometimes to the sounds of Gary Morris or the Osmonds (oh crud, I just dated myself) and sometimes in complete silence my creations came into reality. My first published book, Out of the Shadows . . . Into the Light (December 2004) was followed by 13 and 0: Reflections of Champions, (August 2005) which was then followed by Forged in the Refiner's Fire (February 2006). Somewhere along the way, 4:00 a.m. became 5:00, then 6:00 -- now it's whenever I wake up and whatever time I can squeeze in during an insanely busy day. Not for one blessed second would I trade this. No way would I go back.

Through thick and thin, a writer must produce quality work. Sometimes inspiration flows and pages upon pages fly by as you capture that which comes from your muse. Most of the time you slog away, cranking out four pages if you're lucky, usually trimming most of it away in the morning’s first edit. Whichever one it is, you have to keep writing. For some it's a burning inside that begins to overwhelm if you haven't written for a while. A dear friend of mine, also a writer as well as a teacher, said he was going to implode if he didn't get the time to start writing something soon. Yeah, I feel his pain.

So through the thick and thin of life I still thank God every single day that somebody likes my work and I’m a writer.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

My Deepest Darkest Secret

I have a confession to make—I am a book-a-holic. I’m a book junkie. I haunt libraries and bookstores, thrift stores and garage sales, to get my fix. I can’t seem to help myself. I love LDS fiction. If I come downstairs in the morning, bloodshot and bleary-eyed, my children will roll their eyes and give each other that look, while muttering under their breath, "Mom stayed up to read a book again." And I smile sheepishly, mumbling an apology, then quickly change the subject as I make their lunches. I always regret the "next morning" feeling, but I really couldn’t help myself. I just had to find out how the book ended. Yes, my friends, I am a true book-a-holic.

I was one of those teenagers that read Shirley Sealy and Jack Weyland voraciously. There was even a short-lived Harlequin-esque LDS romance series that I read way back when. Then Anita Stansfield hit the market. Then Rachel Nunes. Then I discovered Jennie Hansen, Lynn Gardner Betsy Brannon Green and Kerry Blair. I was hooked. My bookshelves began to burgeon like a soggy water balloon. And just like a leaky water balloon, the books began to seep onto every flat surface in my house—my bed, my nightstand, my cupboards, even stacked on the floor. I knew it was bad, but when my husband started to make a little path between book stacks in our bedroom, I decided I needed to do something.

I began to weed out my collection, putting all the titles I loved in one pile, and the ones I thought I could do without into another pile. (This process actually took several days, because I discovered books I hadn’t read for a while, and skimmed over them to read all the good parts again.) After agonizing for hours, sweating over which of my treasured books would have to go, my discard pile was pitifully small. I tried to tell myself that I could donate them to Deseret Industries and other people could love them and treasure them, just as I did, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was like trying to figure out which of my oldest and dearest friends to get rid of. It was just too much to ask! My husband lovingly shook his head, and bought me another shelf, sparing my dog-eared, much beloved books. And then we had to buy another shelf. And another. And another. We now have shelves of books in every room of our house. But it’s not my fault. It’s the writers and the librarians and the store owners! If the writers would stop writing such great books, I wouldn’t have to read them! If the library didn’t take so long to get a new book in, and then let a hundred people put it on hold in front of me, I wouldn’t have to buy them! If store owners didn’t have sales and coupons I wouldn’t be drawn in to continue my habit! Sigh.

I’m a book junkie. I’m a book-a-holic. My book stacks are piling up again and two of my favorite authors have a new book out this month. What’s a girl to do?

(Honey, can we squeeze one more shelf in? Pretty please?)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Wrinkles in the Space-Time Continuum

by Stephanie Black

I’m sitting here with huge, Disney-character-sized eyes, goggling over the fact that Jeff Savage can write a novel—and he writes fantastic novels!—in three to six months. It takes me that long to write a grocery list. Heck, I’ve been working on this blog post since I was fourteen.

OK, I’m not THAT slow. On my current work-in-progress—a sequel to my first novel, The Believer— it took me just over a year to churn out around 500 pages of first draft. I’m currently on draft three. It will take four drafts to get the book submission-ready, and if I had time, I’d love to give it five drafts, or six. Or forty. I usually don’t get tired of going through a manuscript as long as I can still see ways to improve it. In fact, I prefer rewriting to drafting (and that isn’t just a stalling mechanism to keep me from having to turn the manuscript in. Really. I swear).

Page count now stands at around 410. I overwrite like crazy on the first draft and then cut cut cut. I’m on excellent terms with the delete key. If I’m erasing whole scenes, or large chunks thereof, I’ll sometimes paste them into a rejects file. Then if the urge hits, I can go back and sigh over my beloved prose (or paste it back into the novel if I end up needing it, which happens occasionally). In addition to chucking repetitive scenes, I do a lot of trimming and tightening. When I draft, I tend to write paragraphs that make the same point six times, something like this: “Jane was scared. Her palms were sweaty. Her stomach knotted. Her knees knocked together. Her mouth was dry. Did I mention that she was scared?”

Another rewriting issue I deal with is Mutating Timeline Syndrome. I start out with a rough idea of when things are taking place but don’t worry about keeping track of every detail (sort of the way I keep track of my personal calendar, come to think of it). Then come rewriting time, I have to confront the fact that in chapter 3, I said ten days had passed, whereas in chapter 4, the same interval was two days long. Unless the story involves time travel (which it doesn’t), I’ve got a problem. Strangely enough, when I go back and read straight through a draft that took me many months to write, I find that things happen a LOT closer together than they did when I first wrote them. Weird.

I also discover that my characters seem to have gotten stupider. What seemed logical during the messy process of drafting now seems about as realistic as Scooby Doo and his gang taking on the bad guys solo and catching them in a trap using Shaggy’s train set (which is conveniently stashed in the back of the Mystery Machine.) I truly love Scooby Doo, but what worked for Shaggy and Fred doesn’t work when writing thrillers. If my characters are in a situation where the average person would have high-tailed it back to the Malt Shop and called the police, but I NEED my characters to stay put for plot purposes, I’d better give them a darn good reason for not bailing out. Rewriting is knocking out the phones and locking the doors, or tossing a hostage into a back room and setting the clock ticking so there’s no time to summon help, or giving the characters a solid reason not to trust the police. It’s also foreshadowing—planting that train set in the van and giving it a logical reason for existing. I know some authors can capture all the nuances of plotting on the first draft, but I’m not that mentally organized. I have trouble just getting my library books back on time.

Well, I’d better get to work. I told my editor I’d have the manuscript to her in April and I’ve got one and three-quarters drafts left to go. Either I’d better hope for some Star Trekkish interference with time so that somehow March lasts about 27 weeks or I’d better quit falling asleep when I’m supposed to be writing. I’m thinking the Captain Kirk option is more likely to happen.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Never Make Eye Contact

by Robison Wells

Let's get one thing out of the way right now: this blog is all about self-promotion. As noted across the top, we're all authors, and we all want you (yes you) to buy our books. It's what we do. We write books and you buy them. And frankly, we've been holding up our part of the bargain, and you – well, let's just say that you've been a little stingy with the green. (I mean, reading books for free at the library? What's up with that?)

I was a little startled to discover that once a manuscript is submitted to the publisher, the writing process has only begun. There are months and months of grueling revisions, email after email of desperate negotiations, and a never-ending supply of last minute decisions (such as, "Should I send my editor a sycophantic gift of flowers and chocolate? Or should I throw a brick through her window?") But I was terribly disheartened to discover that even after the book is published and printed and sitting on store shelves collecting dust, there is still work to be done.


I hate it. Authors spend most of their lives holed up in a dark corner. We hide from the real world. Our best friend is our computer. When we get together with other authors we talk about grammar and Writer's Market and conventions. To put it plainly, we're a bunch of nerds. We're like college boys who spend thirty-six hours straight playing Everquest online – except that we authors not only live in a false reality, it's a reality that we make up! We sit by ourselves in a dark room and play pretend.

My point: we have no business acting like salesmen.

And yet we do – we're forced to – or else all our labors are for nothing. If we don't get out and pound the pavement, and pretend to enjoy book signings, then no one will read our books and love us and put food on our table.

So, we go to book signings, and we sit behind the table and watch as person after person ignores us. (Many authors, including a few on this site, I believe, try the walk-up-and-talk-to-people approach. I don't like this for two reasons: First, because I hate walking into a store and having someone try to sell me something. Second, because people scare the heebie jeebies out of me. Hey you: think of yourself, and imagine walking into a bookstore and spotting me at a table. You avert your eyes, because you're afraid that I'm going to sell you something, and I smile and wave and hope that you don't come over and hit me with a stick. I know you're going to do it. You're not as innocent as you look.)

And we go to speaking events, and address groups of students or readers or aspiring authors, and we talk about our books and ourselves and pretend to be public speakers. We're not, though. (This doesn't mean you should stop inviting us – it just means that writing books isn't the same as being charismatic and charming.)
I remember having to speak at the Utah Librarian's Association conference, and my goodness was I terrified. I was certain that the other authors in attendance we're going to stand up and amaze the crowd with treatises on renaissance poetry and the influence of pre-Columbian pottery on Jack Weyland's cubist period. And then I'd get up and talk about how I really dig American Idol – because really, I don't know anything. I just write books.

But thank heavens for the internet! If I was an author back before the computer age, I wouldn't be writing books today. Not only would I never have the patience to handwrite anything, but I wouldn't be granted the relative anonymity of the information superhighway, and I wouldn't have a medium whereby I could communicate with my readers via text. (Other than letters, I guess, but who writes letters? Who am I? Abigail Adams?)

So, I blog. I blog here, and I blog on my personal website, and I blog on another site. And I write the occasional article for webzines (such as a book review today on Meridian Magazine, or game reviews for The Official Timewaster's Guide). My marketing strategy is that if I write enough, then people are bound to run across me sooner or later.

Maybe I won't win many awards for self-promotion, but that's fine with me. Awards shows are always full of people – one of them might hit me.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Bright shiny new books

The top three questions I’m asked at book signings—other than, “Do you know where I can find the Anita Stansfield books?"—are: How long does it take you to write a book? Where do you get your ideas? and, When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

My typical answers are: Three to six months. Getting the ideas isn’t the hard part, it’s capturing them that makes me sweat. and, I’m still not sure I want to be a writer.

The truth is that all of these questions are really asking one thing. Do you think I could be a writer too?

People see you with your stack of bright shiny new books. They see you sign your name inside the bright shiny new books. If you’re lucky they see you actually sell one of your bright shiny new books. They imagine that you must be making a bundle of money from your bright shiny new books. (I ask the teller at the bank to give me my royalty check in ones, just so I can truthfully say I make a bundle of money. And even then, it’s not nearly as big a bundle as you might think.) And they want to know if they can write bright shiny new books too.

The short answer is yes. Anyone with enough determination can write a book. For some people that’s all they need to know. The guy with the stack of bright shiny new books (and that stack really doesn’t seem to be getting a whole lot smaller throughout the course of the signing) said that I can write a book too. I’m happy. I can leave now. If that’s all you needed to know, you can quit reading here and go merrily along your way. Really, stop now. You’ll be happier. Don’t even scroll to the next line.

Stop. I’m warning you.

Last chance.

Okay fine. You decided to read on. Don’t blame me if you lose the warm fuzzies you had up above.

I’ll let you in on a secret. The people who walked away happy with the above message will probably never write a bright shiny new book. They didn’t really want to anyway. They just wanted the reassurance that they could. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’d like to play lead guitar in a rock band. I’d like to play short stop for a major league baseball team (except for the Yankees. I hate the Yankees.) I’d like to play the romantic lead in a Hollywood movie opposite Meg Ryan. But I can say with 100% confidence that I will never do those things.

Why? Lack of talent? Maybe, although I did have the lead in my college production of 84 Charing Cross Road and I did learn to play Sandman by America on my old acoustic six string. Lack of opportunity? Also a maybe. Sometimes it’s about who you know or who your parents are or whether you are genetically capable of hitting a 70mph curveball. But mostly it’s because I chose not to put the time and effort required into those accomplishments. It wasn’t a high enough priority.

That’s the deal with writing too. It takes time and it takes desire and it takes at least a little bit of talent. Lots of people have the talent, but few of them have the desire to put in the time. I’m not one of those people who can truthfully say writing is like breathing for me. If I didn’t write I wouldn’t die. But I can truthfully say that I want to write badly enough that I put it before things like TV and computer solitaire. I write enough that my kids know when I am working on my latest book. I take my laptop with me on vacations. I am currently on a business trip in Atlanta, and guess what I am doing when I finish this BLOG?

There is a class in almost every writing seminar I attend called how to make time for writing. That really cracks me up. It’s so obvious. EVERYONE has time to write. Let me repeat myself. EVERYONE has time to write. Did you read the latest Harry Potter book or any Dan Brown book or any Anita Stansfield book? Do you know who the final contestants are in American Idol? Did you get more than six hour of sleep last night? Did you do anything other than eat the last time you had lunch? Show me a person who doesn’t have a single spare minute in their entire week and I will put their picture right above my computer next to all the other saints there. (OK actually it’s more like Homer Simpson, a bobble head turtle, and a Barry Zito action figure. But still it’s a spot of honor.) Then I’ll ask them how they found time to read this BLOG.

If you don’t take the time to write. Don’t feel bad. It just means that it’s not a priority for you right now. Nothing wrong with that. I didn’t write my first book until I was almost forty. I didn’t plan on being a writer. And I still don’t know if it’s really worth it.

But if you do want to write, start now. Close this BLOG and open Word. Or Word Perfect. Or MS works. Or notepad. Or open a real notepad and get a pencil. Think to yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen to me? What would I do about it? Or what’s the best thing that could happen to me? How could it happen? Or what’s the most valuable thing in the world to me? What if I lost it? Then, write about it. Will it stink up the entire house? Probably. Every author goes through a time where their writing stinks up the house. The difference between those who write and those who don’t write is that the writers keep on writing and pretty soon their story doesn’t stink so bad.

Oh and by the way, I’m Jeff Savage—dad of four, full time national sales manager for a software company, occasional jogger, frequent camper and fisherman, Primary teacher, and husband of the most wonderful woman in the world. And I write.

As a side note regarding the title of this BLOG, we had another writer lined up to join us, so they were the six LDS writers and I got play the part of the frog. Ribbet. Ribbet. But then he couldn’t make it. Turns out he lined up a gig playing short stop for the Yankees. That means I got promoted—at least until they find another writer.