Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, April 28, 2006

I'm Going to Disney World!

by Sariah S. Wilson

A big welcome to Kerry Blair! We're all tickled green to have you.

I used to love those commercials where people would win gold medals or the Super Bowl or the National Spelling Bee and then the announcer would ask, "What are you going to do next?" and said champion while holding both arms aloft would announce, "I'm going to Disney World!"

I will definitely never win a gold medal or the Super Bowl or the National Spelling Bee (although I might have a chance on that last one if I were much shorter), but I did get the writer equivalent - Covenant took a chance and bought my book. That phone call from my editor was truly one of the best experiences of my life. that I've sold my book, what I am going to do next? I'm going to Disney World!

This is the first real vacation my family has had since we formed in 1996. Oh, we've had "vacations" that entailed visiting family, but never something as frivolous or fun or exhausting. Thus, I am posting today and not tomorrow (my regularly scheduled day).

This has been a dream of mine since my childhood and I am beyond thrilled to be going.

I promise not to come back and post a lot of annoying pictures.

Wish me luck!

It Isn't Easy Bein' (a) Greenie

by Kerry Blair
The posts of the previous two days have left me speechless. There is so much heartache in the world. How thankful I am that there is more than enough faith, hope, and charity to overcome it. How fortunate your families and friends are to have you Julie, Stephanie and Darvell. You are all in my thoughts and prayers.

The first sentence in this blog is true, but it’s not the whole truth. The whole truth is that I’ve been speechless ever since I was invited to join Six LDS Writers and a Frog. You see, I’ve never blogged before. I couldn’t even define blog until last week when I learned that it’s a contraction of web log. (I could have looked it up in the Wikipedia, but I didn’t know there was such a thing as a wiki before yesterday.) By now you’re probably asking yourself what a dull girl like me is doing in a cutting edge place like this. Well, frankly, I’ve always had a thing for frogs.

It’s true. Other girls had posters of rock stars on their walls, but I had a picture of Kermit. I know all the words to It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green and a remarkable amount of Kermie trivia. For instance, did you know that that Kermit T. Frog was born on May 9, 1955, conceived from Jim Henson’s mother’s old coat and two ping pong balls? From that ignominious beginning he went on to author a book of philosophy, serve as grand marshal in the Rose Bowl parade, address commencement at Southhampton College, guest host both the Tonight Show and Larry King Live and, last but not least, sing the only Academy Award-nominated song ever recorded by a frog. Not bad for a humble amphibian with no delusions of grandeur. Kermit is my hero. Our frog (who is not nearly as modest) claims to be a distant relation of the famous Muppet. It might be true. You should hear him belt out The Writers, the Dreamers and Me!

So, when the frog issued an invitation to join the talented, illustrious folks already in his bog, I -- excuse the expression -- jumped at the chance. Now he’s off somewhere catching flies (hopefully for the Diamondbacks) and I’m sitting here on the edge of his pond afraid to slog into his blog bog. I hate soggy socks.

I can only hope that blogging will turn out to be a lot like writing fiction. I had no idea how to go about that, either. I’d never taken a creative writing class or read an LDS novel before Covenant published my first book. It was like falling down a rabbit hole and ending up someplace strange -- but wondrous. Every time I begin a new book it feels the same way. I’m back up at the top of that hole, looking down in apprehension. Do I really want to go there? If I do, how do I get in? I feel like the character in George MacDonald’s Dealings with the Fairies (1867). The scene goes like this:

The Old Man of the Earth stooped over the floor of the cave, raised a huge stone from it, and left it leaning. It disclosed a great hole that went plumb-down. “That is the way,” he said.
“But there are no stairs.”
“You must throw yourself in. There is no other way.”

I believe that’s true of most artistic endeavors. In order to create, we must take the plunge. There is no other way. But why do it? Why venture into a dark hole of uncertainty and possible failure in the first place? Kate Douglas Wiggin answered that question for me in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903):

Going to Aunt Mirandy’s is like going down cellar in the dark. There might be ogres and giants under the stairs, -- but, as I tell Hannah, there MIGHT be elves and fairies and enchanted frogs!

I began writing to see if I could find the elves and fairies and enchanted frogs that I hoped might exist somewhere outside my laundry room. I’ve come across a metaphorical ogre now and again, and am still working on overcoming a giant inferiority complex, but I’ve been blessed with eight happy endings just the same. The true magic, however, has come with the friends, golden geese, and fairy godmothers I’ve found along the way.

I suspect there are many friends (elves and fairies) lurking in the cattails around this blog. I know for certain that the frog is here because I’ve already been charmed and enchanted by the site! While I am certainly no Candace Salima, and while blogging is still a puzzling thing that remains mostly outside my experience and comfort zone, perhaps I’ll pick it up as I slog along in my soggy socks. If not, well, you know what Kermit says: “Time’s fun when you’re having flies!”

I’m counting on it.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Life Really Sucks Sometimes

by Julie Coulter Bellon

It's been a tough week. After reading Stephanie's blog, it seems that a lot of people are suffering through trials this week.

I haven't done any writing at all. There's just nothing left in me right now. You see, at the first of last week, a close friend of mine was dealing with the abandonment of her husband and I was trying to comfort her and help her sort things out. Two days later I was holding another friend (the sweetest, most valiant LDS woman you will ever know) as she cried and mourned the loss of her 21 year old son to a methamphetamine overdose. And two days after that I was mourning the loss of my own baby when I miscarried. Thankfully I have an incredibly supportive and sensitive husband and family who have been absolutely amazing throughout this entire ordeal, but it's been hard for me.

The thing that is the common thread among the three of us–the friend who lost her husband, the friend her lost her son, and me losing the baby, is the guilt. All three of us said the same sort of thing. I should have . . . I could have . . . Maybe if I'd done this . . . I think the adversary uses the tool of guilt to keep us forever wallowing in self-pity and unable to see beyond the moment. I think it's okay for all three of us to be mourning right now and feeling those emotions, but the gospel teaches us that there is so much more to life than suffering. These experiences have a purpose, even if we can't see it right now. Nothing is in vain. And pain is a very effective teacher. I once heard it said that a body can only endure so much physical pain, then it shields itself by slipping into unconsciousness, but there is no limit to spiritual pain. That is why we are told to give our burdens to the Lord. He understands. He knows. He's taken our burdens upon himself already, we just need to be willing to rely on him, to trust him. When the burden is shared, then it's much easier to bear. That's what I'm working on.

So, life really sucks sometimes. But it gets better. And I will appreciate the good all the more when it comes.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Scale of Eternal Importance

by Stephanie Black

I’ve been agonizing over a writing matter lately, wringing my hands and generally working myself into a tizzy. I was talking to my mother about it and she said that when she gets herself worked up over some minor matter, one of my father’s favorite sayings is: “On a scale of importance from one to ten, this is a zero.” That statement rings true to me, because I’m just the person to get myself in a snarl over a bunch of zero-ranked trivialities. My worries about writing and so on—let’s face it. Those issues don’t rank high on the scale of eternal importance.

But every now and then, something happens that ranks a ten. And today, with a ten-ranking matter on my mind, no light-hearted blogging topic feels appropriate.

Today is the funeral for my cousin. He was twenty-seven years old, married, and with a son who will have his first birthday in a few days. To protect the privacy of his family, I won’t give his name, but I’d like to share a few thoughts concerning him.

I didn’t know my cousin on a personal level. We are a very large family, spread out all over the country. He’s a lot younger than I am, so we didn’t hang around together at the family reunions that we attended as children, in the days before the extended clan got so big that the multi-day reunions became unworkable. But the eternal bonds of family are strong, and in our hearts, our extended family comes together to support and pray for each other in times of need.

Through the words of those who were close to my cousin, I know that he was a truly remarkable man. A valiant man of great ability. A man of tremendous courage and tremendous faith, married to a woman of equal valor and faith.

Elder Dennis E. Simmons of the Quorum of the Seventy spoke in April 2004 General Conference about the nature of faith. He told the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, about to be thrown into the fiery furnace by their enemies. These young men confidently declared that God could deliver them—but if not, they would still continue faithful.

Elder Simmons said, “They knew that they could trust God—even if things didn’t turn out the way they hoped.”

Things didn’t turn out the way we’d hoped.

We knew that the Lord could deliver my cousin from the cancer that afflicted him, no matter how bad the medical outlook. In countless prayers and in family fasts, we asked that he be healed.

But if not . . . we will trust in the Lord, for He alone knows all things and sees with an eternal perspective.

When it comes right down to it, the only things that do rank a ten on the scale of importance are the things that matter eternally. Like faith.

And families.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Coming Down the Pipeline

by Robison E. Wells (the E stands for Quality)

My next book, The Counterfeit, will be released in a few months. And while my first two novels each took less than a year to write, this one has taken two-and-a-half years. The problem I've had during that time is that I come up with ideas a whole lot faster than I write books -- and it makes me kind of sad to realize that a lot of these ideas will never see the light of day. (Once again, this problem could be solved with more time, and I'd have more time if I had an unpaid intern. Or, if I were fabulously wealthy. I'd take either.)

So, here is a short account of what is currently sitting on the back burner. These are projects that I fully intend to devote time to, eventually -- I have other ideas that I fully intend to never devote time to, such as the tale of three wacky Vietnamese roommates named Bo, Beau, and Charles. (Seriously, this stupid thing has been sitting in my head for four years now, and I can't get it out. I'm nearly ready to funnel bleach into my ear canal to wash my brain.)

Anyway, future projects:

1) A romantic comedy where the man and woman do not meet each other until the last page -- possibly the very last paragraph. And I'm not talking about some Sleepless in Seattle nonsense either, where they follow each other around -- these people will never meet at all.
I worked on this for quite a while and couldn't get it right. I've since decided that it would be a far better screenplay than a book.

2) A collaborative novel, utilizing wiki. This is a project that Matthew Buckley and I are fiddling with: we co-write the chapters, and then open it up online for immediate semi-public editing and comments (ala wikipedia).

3) An action/adventure novel that's kind of Indiana Jones with BoM artifacts.

4) A collaborative screenplay, with U of U film student Sam Potter.

5) I have vague desires to write something for the national market, although I have no idea what. I keep hearing that there's a lot of money out there, and I loves me some money.

6) But most important, and the whole reason for today's post, is that Monday, May 1st, something big is coming. It's something that, as far as we can tell, has never been done in the LDS market. It's a mountain of work, and it's the reason that I never return anyone's emails, and never update my personal blog, and never sleep anymore. But it's going to be cool.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Mad Anthony and Da Vinci

By Sariah S. Wilson

So today I went to a writing conference in Hamilton, Ohio called the Mad Anthony. I expected to go and come back with lots of great writing tips to post about.

But instead I have to write about “The Da Vinci Code.”

It surprised me how often this book came up in conversation. I arrived just before the first class and sat next to a woman who wrote Christian, inspirational type novels. She said she had a goal of debunking what Dan Brown had done in his book.

Then later on that morning I took a class on religious writing and “The Da Vinci Code” came up again, and the workshop attendees discussed how “dangerous” the book was.


The woman from this morning informed me that it somehow diminished Christ’s deity if he was, you know, an actual man. He couldn’t possibly have done something like getting married. I asked why that was so difficult to believe when Jesus Christ had a mortal mother. Just going on DNA alone, wouldn’t that make him half-human? (The only way he could die was through his mortal side. Had he been fully immortal, the crucifixion wouldn't have worked.) I told the woman that in all likelihood Christ was married. It was a ritual of manhood/rite of passage among his culture. He would never have been considered a rabbi or a teacher or someone worthy of preaching in the synagogue if he hadn’t been married (which is a common cultural trait in many ancient civilizations, including the Mayas). It is more likely that if he hadn’t been married his apostles would have commented on it because it would have been so strange.

I just had no idea that people were so churned up about “The Da Vinci Code.” I understood where people who practiced Catholicism might feel upset both in the portrayal of Opus Dei and in the book's fundamental assertion that Christ might not have been celibate. I truly did not expect that people of other faiths might be up in arms about this as well, or that it might shake the foundation of their beliefs if Jesus Christ did in fact get married.

Now, whether he was married to Mary Magdalene or not, I don’t know. But I think Dan Brown makes a compelling argument for why it might have been her and it makes sense considering that she’s the one Christ first appeared to after his resurrection. It makes sense that his wife was the one who would go to Christ’s tomb to administer to him. If he really had been unmarried, wouldn’t that have been the responsibility of his mother?

And I suppose we shouldn’t even get into the whole Mary had children with Joseph thing. That apparently makes people freak out as well. I don’t understand how people who believe the Bible to be true don’t believe Matthew 13:54-56. It starts off with Jesus going into “his own country” to teach them in the synagogue, and everyone was “astonished.” They said:

55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?

56 And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?

So if you believe the Bible, how can anyone disregard the blatant and explicit naming of brothers and sisters of Jesus?

I also remember reading about the ossuary discovered a few years ago that had the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” The timing on it is right and the possibility exists that this is the James spoken of in the scripture, the man who was Jesus’s brother. (Although I should note that scholars debate the authenticity of the box, with an Israeli panel deciding that it was not authentic, and other scientists and archaeologists saying that the Israeli panel ignored some major evidence. I suppose it’s one of those things that the world will never be certain on.)

Why wouldn’t Mary and Joseph have children? It would have been expected of her. I know some people say that Joseph was old and already had children. It sounds like we’re talking about at least six siblings (not knowing how many sisters, but seeing that it’s plural it had to be at least two). Joseph carted all six of those kids and his pregnant wife to Bethlehem? Isn’t it at all possible that those children were born AFTER Jesus? What if Joseph wasn’t old? What if he was only a few years older than Mary (which is how I’ve always pictured him)? I don’t know why that assumption is made - an apocryphal text perhaps? Or is it because we assume that by the time of Christ’s crucifixion Joseph had died (since Christ had to put Mary into the care of John it stands to reason that Joseph had already died, which to me also suggests that Christ was the oldest son and it was his responsibility to make certain his mother was taken care of), so ergo Joseph must have been old? People die young. It happens all the time.

It does not diminish Christ’s divinity for him to have been married and to have lived his life as a man. It only makes his feats all the more miraculous. It doesn’t lessen his teachings or his influence if his mother had other children. It doesn’t lessen Mary’s role to have been a real wife and a mother of many, either.

Regardless, I suppose in the end George Bernard Shaw was right:

No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says. He is always convinced that it says what he means.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Farewell . . .

Sadly, this will be my last blog for Six LDS Writers and a Frog. I'm afraid my schedule has been so insane I had to start carving things out. I'm really going to miss being involved in this project as I feel it to be very worthwhile, not to mention a lot of fun.

So my last thoughts on writing for those aching to launch themselves into the business.

Have you ever heard of the "crab syndrome"? It goes something like this. If someone within the circle of your family, friends or culture actually achieves some success outside of the aforementioned family, friends or culture, they immediately try to drag you back down to the level of their medocrity.

Some examples:

Kool and the Gang. Now I know I'm dating myself here, but Celebration (the song) was one of my favorites when I was in high school. Kool and the Gang is a classic rhythm and blues band. When they crossed over and achieved success after success they were called "Sell Outs."

Rod Stewart. A rocker from way back. When he crossed over with "So You Think I'm Sexy", he too was called a "Sell Out."

Why? Because they achieved success beyond their wildest dreams and their peers simply couldn't handle it. In other words, they were jealous.

How does this apply to writers? It's simple - don't limit yourselves. By virtue of being writers, you are most likely readers as well. Readers launch themselves into a universe non-readers will never enter. Their imaginations soar up and above the mundane, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in worlds of suspense, romance, magic, dragons, heroes, villains and so much more. So why, when you start writing, would you limit yourselves to what is expected.

You've worked hard your entire lives to hone your craft and become good enough to see your name on the cover of a book on the shelves of a store. That's an accomplishment. I've heard people tell me I've "settled" because I chose to publish within the LDS market. I didn't settle at all. I made a conscious choice. I wanted to write romantic suspense. I couldn't do that in the national market without including sex scenes (check out the submission guidelines sometime). I am not a Sunday Mormon - I live what I believe. So there was no way I was going to compromise my principles by publishing in the national market and rationalizing to myself as to why I included scenes I don't approve of . . . so, no, I did not settle. I made a choice.

So sit down and decide who and what you want to be. Outline what you have to do to accomplish that goal and let no one, no thing, no circumstance prevent you from accomplishing.

Kerry Lynn Blair will be taking over for me now. She'll do a marvelous job and you'll enjoy her blogs. Goodbye and good luck. I'll still be checking the blogs and commenting on occassion, so don't think you got rid of me for good!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Secret of a Busy LDS Woman

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I get asked a lot how I do it. How do I juggle a large family, working, and writing books? Sometimes I wonder, too. There isn't an LDS woman on the planet who isn't busy, when you think about it, and more so if you have children and/or a job. For example, we are asked to do family history, attend the temple, accept a calling in our ward, fulfill compassionate service assignments, read scriptures daily, have personal prayer, keep yourself physically fit, keep a clean house, community service, the list could go on and on. Add children to the mix and you've got to be a support for Scouts, (keeping records so they can achieve Eagle), Cub Scouts, both scout and girls' camp, Young Men activities, Young Women activities, Achievement Days, Activity Days, Faith in God program, Duty to God program, Young Womanhood program, family home evenings, family scripture study, family prayer, family temple trips, make nutritious dinners, drivers' ed, dating, I mean, my to do list is long. So how do I find time to sleep, much less write, you ask? It's called the Fifteen Minute Snatch.

Let me explain what I mean. When something is important to you, you will find time for it. I believe that. If your favorite television show is on, you will make time to sit and watch it. If a clean house is important to you, you may not go to bed until it's done. But sometimes when you have a long to do list, it can get overwhelming. That's where the fifteen minute snatch comes in. No matter what is going on in my day, I can usually find a snatch of time, generally about fifteen minutes, sometimes longer, where I can do something else—something that is important to me, like writing. For example, I get up early and get my oldest five children off to school, then feed my youngest child. While he is eating, I have about fifteen minutes to sit down at the computer and write the scene I've been imagining in my head. It's not easy to write in snatches sometimes, but you can train yourself to do it and be able to come back to it and get in the rhythm. Or, when my child is down for a nap and the house is tidy, I can find another fifteen minutes to finish that scene, do some family history, work on my church lesson, read the scriptures, or work on my responsibilities as a county delegate. Obviously, there are some things that need more than fifteen minutes and have to be planned for, but you would be surprised at what you can accomplish in such a short amount of time. I always feel energized when I've finished, too, and by the end of the day I'm feeling pretty good about myself and the things I was able to accomplish.

If you don't believe me, test it out. Write down everything you have to/want to/need to do. **Warning—this could look overwhelming at first.** Prioritize your list into what is truly important to you. Then, start your day and look for fifteen minute snatches of time. You can find them anywhere. When you're waiting for carpool, doctor's appointments, finish household chores early, do a crockpot dinner so you have less meal prep time and can use that time in another way, just anywhere you can find a spare minute. Even five minute snatches during commercials is better than nothing. Then go down your list and work on that item for your snatch of time. It is absolutely amazing at what you can do! You might not get it all done, you'll probably have to come back to it, but you're working on it, and it's getting there. Even if you just have to sit and relax for fifteen minutes, meditate, make some plans, whatever, just taking that time for yourself and doing something you enjoy will energize you.

Not only is it really satisfying to me, but it's also good for my kids to see that Mom needs time for herself and her dreams, too. They know that they are my number one priority, but they also know that it's okay for me to have a life separate from them, so that when I'm with them, I'm a better, happier person. I think they understand that and work harder to give me that little snatch of time every now and again. Then we all can celebrate when a new book comes out, or when we all go to the temple for names that have been researched out, or even just sitting back and enjoying each other–the best use of time. I truly believe that you will find time for what you love and you will love it when you find the time.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Perfect Time to Panic

by Stephanie Black

One of the greatest bits of dialogue in the movie “Toy Story” comes when Woody and Buzz end up stranded at a gas station, with no idea how they’re going to find their beloved owner, Andy, again. Woody starts freaking out and Buzz, with maddening calm, says, “Sheriff, this is no time to panic.” To which Woody fires back, “This is the perfect time to panic," and goes on to detail the crisis they are facing. That line has always cracked me up. The perfect time to panic. If panic is not warranted now, then when? I’m sort of a panicky personality, prone to shrieking if something startles or alarms me. This attribute will not come in handy next fall when it’s time to teach my teenage daughter to drive.

This morning, it felt like the perfect time to panic, because I just e-mailed my new manuscript to my editor. I’ve calmed down now. But it took me a while to stop shaking.

So whence the case of the weak knees? I’ve been working like crazy for the past year and a half to write the book, with, naturally, the goal of submitting it. I was planning to submit it in April—and I did it! I reached a goal! Wow! What’s next? Matched socks? Dinner on time? Let’s not get extreme here.

But submitting a manuscript is both thrilling and terrifying. Thrilling because you’ve finished the book into which you've poured your time and sweat and heart and soul and you’re sending your dream winging off to a publisher. Terrifying because you’ve finished the book into which you've poured your time and sweat and heart and soul and you’re sending your dream winging off to a publisher.

Up until the point that you submit the manuscript, you’re free to imagine whatever scenarios you want. The publisher will love it! They’ll snatch it up in record time! The first print run will sell out in a day! You’ll have so many fan letters that your e-mail server will crash! Your publisher will call you up, begging you to please, please write another book as quickly as you can because the world needs your unique and unparalleled genius. People will send you chocolates!

But once you submit the book, you’ve applied for a reality check. And so the panic begins.

Will the publisher like the book? If they like it, will they think there’s enough of a market for it to make it profitable? Should I really have included that scene where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir pops out of the wheat field singing “Let Us All Press On” and swoops the hero off to safety? Should I really have made the villain see the error of his ways, join the church and get called as a Sunbeam teacher? Will Rob Wells figure out that the villain’s twenty-eight year old warrior/blogger sidekick is patterned on him? Will Rob sue me?

Just kidding. For anyone who read my first book and is interested in the sequel, I promise, I didn’t do any of the above. The only thing I’m second-guessing myself about at the moment is whether or not I included enough recap of the first book. I originally had more of it, but a couple of my test readers found it info-dumpy and distracting (“Hey! You’re reading a sequel!”), so I trimmed it. I hope I didn’t trim it too much.

The first time I submitted a manuscript, it was much more of a production. This was a snail-mail submission, so I printed out the manuscript and put it carefully in a pristine cardboard manuscript box. I checked and rechecked to make sure I’d included all the correct materials (cover letter, summary, SASE). My daughters made a poster to put in the back window of the car. I can’t remember what it said, but it was something celebrating my achievement. When I gave the box to the clerk at the post office and she asked if I wanted to send it book rate, I turned red. Did she sense that there was a wanna-be book in that package? And I bought cheesecake to celebrate.

This time, it was much more low-key. All I had to do was hit "send" and then go around shrieking to my daughters that I actually submitted the manuscript. “That’s great, Mom,” my teenager would mumble, her eyes glued to a “MacGyver” re-run. And I don’t have any cheesecake at the moment, but I do have that Reese’s peanut butter egg that I hid on Sunday and then couldn’t remember where it was. My daughter found it today. Next time I hide Easter candy, I ought to make a cheat sheet reminding me where the good stuff is.

So the manuscript in in my editor's hands. Now begins the waiting . . .

And by the way, Rob, don’t bother to sue me. The IRS has all our money.

The Devil's In The Details

by Robison Wells (a day late and a dollar short)

The other day someone asked me what the hardest thing is about writing a book. I made up some phoney-baloney answer about dedication and sticktoitiveness, and he went on his merry way. At other times I've answered the question with one or more of the following: dialogue, editing, physical description, marketing, and/or plagiarizing Candace Salima without getting caught. (And man, she's suspicious! Seriously, Candace -- my book is called Out of Darkness: Reflection of Forgers. It's totally different.)

No, the really hard part about writing is that I'm not exactly detail oriented. I write stuff because I'm typing really fast, not because I confirmed my sources and double-checked my facts. I dwell in the abstract, theoretical realms, and I use the "Hey -- it's just fiction!" excuse all the time.

A few examples:

* In Wake Me When It's Over, I needed a ringtone for the cellphone of my female protagonist. It was simple enough: she's a concert violinist, and all she really needed was a famous concerto. However, I'm a writer, not a musician, and I don't know a harmonica from a harpsicord. So, I made up the fictional Mozart's Violin Concerto in E-flat, fully intending to research concertos and find something suitable to take its place. E-flat was just a stand-in. Well, guess what I never remembered to do? There it remains, in print, mocking me.

* Regarding my upcoming novel, The Counterfeit, my editor just emailed me today: the main characters are visiting with the bishop, who writes his address on the back of a tithing envelope and sends them on their way. Very nice of him, you might say -- always trying to keep in touch. Well, smart guy, isn't the Bishop's address already printed on the front of a tithing envelope? Seriously: duh?

In my books, people apparently change clothes mid-scene. Laws of physics are defied. Waitresses miraculously become waiters. Why won't people recognize my genius?!

It makes me grateful for editors. I mean, I've read this dang thing over and over and over again, for two-and-a-half years, and I don't catch any of this stuff.

You know what I need? An unpaid intern. Someone who will check my facts, and remove all my extraneous commas, and do the dishes while I take a nap. I'll be sending out press releases to university English departments: "Spend your days working with a real-live author!"

If you're interested, send your applications to 123 Anytown, USA. (Note to self: replace that with a real address before posting to the blog...)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Proper Care and Feeding of Introverts

by Sariah S. Wilson

On this blog the authors have been talking quite a bit about how much we dread one part of our profession - having to publicize our books. I would guess that this dread comes from our introverted natures.

I am a definite introvert. That isn’t something I discovered about myself until I got a little older - in my teens I forced myself to be social. I was a cheerleader, in my high school’s student government. In college I threw weekly hot chocolate socials at my apartment. I dated a lot, hung out a lot. But there was always this level of discomfort that my friends and roommates never had. I wondered why it was harder for me than it was for other people.

To explain a little, extroverts are “people persons.” There’s nothing an extrovert likes more than to get to know new people, going to parties or having people over for dinner. They get recharged by sitting and talking to someone else. After a dance or a party they’re wired and excited and might have a hard time falling asleep afterwards.

An introvert, on the other hand, views such activities as akin to a death sentence. I absolutely loathe parties and will do everything in my power to get out of them. Having someone over for dinner fills me full of dread for weeks beforehand and the whole day of the dinner I’m desperately hoping that the people coming will have to cancel. I recharge by being alone. After anything social I have to spend time alone to recover.

Estimates range widely on the percentage of the population that are introverts. Twenty-five percent seems to be about the standard. So while 75 percent of the world are extroverts, only 25 percent are introverts, and extroverts shake their heads at us because they don’t understand us unsocial loners. Or, as Jonathan Rauch said in The Atlantic Online:

“‘It is very difficult for an extrovert to understand an introvert,’ write the education experts Jill D. Burruss and Lisa Kaenzig…Extroverts are easy for introverts to understand, because extroverts spend so much of their time working out who they are in voluble, and frequently inescapable, interaction with other people. They are as inscrutable as puppy dogs. But the street does not run both ways. Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion. As often as I have tried to explain the matter to extroverts, I have never sensed that any of them really understood. They listen for a moment and then go back to barking and yipping.”

This is not to say that introverts hate other people. What we do is find them tiring and difficult to deal with on an extended basis. People usually bristle at the suggestion that they are introverts because our society has dictated that introversion is “bad.” It’s not bad, it’s just different. This is not a choice we made, this is how we were born. I would also suggest that most writers are at least somewhat introverted because how could a true extrovert spend so many hours alone in an imaginary world with only themselves to talk to?

Which leads me back to book signings. An activity designed for extroverts. I think if my mom had a book signing she would have the entire store at her table with her laughter and stories and if someone was missing out, she’d find them and drag them over to join in.

This is the only profession where we’re rewarded for being introverts (getting contracts for writing our books) and are then expected to be extroverts to publicize the book. Most authors would be very, very happy to write their books and have someone else do all that publicity stuff for them.

So the next time you’re in a bookstore, take pity on us. Come up and say hello. Use your extrovert personality to carry the conversation. Take the flier or buy the book without us having to ask you to.

Just don’t invite us to any parties.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Marketing and the Intrepid Author

What aspect of writing, reading or life in general to address today? You see, I’m in Texas. Not really on vacation but inserting vacation into every portion of the visit I can. I’ve been writing my blogs for, playing, sleeping (mostly sleeping) and just enjoying the heck out of my family. But I did finally hit upon something.

Other authors are always asking me how I set up book tours, book signings and speaking engagements. So there you go, there’s my topic.

First: Book Tours.

These are easy. Sit down, go through your address book and see where all your friends and family live. Then check those corresponding cities with the bookstores that are available. If those two things coincide, then map out your journey. For instance, when my first book, Out of the Shadows . . . Into the Light hit the market I hit the address book and I got to work. Within a week I was arranging the plans: Baltimore, MD (Uncle Mike), Morgantown, WV (‘dre (my agent)), Chicago, Il (husband’s cousins, Glen and Julie), Independence, MO (husband’s cousin, Sekeli) and to top it off, Dallas, TX (my brother, Cash) – and the plans for my book tour were done.

Now back east, there are no church bookstores in the Baltimore, MD or Morgantown, WV areas so I asked my family to set up private book reading/signing parties. How does that work? They issue invitations to a select number of people (between 20 and 40) to come meet the author, Candace E. Salima and hear a reading of a portion of her book. The floor will be opened for questions and then she will sell personally autographed copies of her new book. Everyone one of these I’ve done have been a smash hit. I’ve sold every book I’ve taken to these events.
I arrange my tours around family and friends because I am poor. I get to combine visiting and work and save money in the process.

Second: Book Signings

In order to find the church bookstores in the other cities I went to my publishers website and looked for stores in every city I was going to – found ‘em and called ‘em. What do you say? Well, something along the lines of this: "Hi, my name is Candace Salima and I’m the author of . I’ll be in your area on the 15th of June and wondered if you’d like me to come in and do a book signing for you?" That’s it! That’s as hard as it could get. They’ll either say "no" (only one has ever done that) or they’ll say "yes" and you get busy. I always call my publisher and give him the dates and places. He calls the bookstores to make sure they have the books in stock and to place any orders that are necessary. In addition, be sure to call the bookstore one week in advance to make certain everything is in place. There are lots of things you can do to prepare for a book signing, Jeff Savage addressed some of them in an earlier blog on this site.

Third: Speaking Engagements

Depending on if you want to speak at churches, schools or universities you’ll have to exert different levels of effort. For firesides, you call said family member and get their bishop’s phone name and phone number. Then you call the bishop and explain that you’ll be in the area doing a book signing and you’d love to come do a fireside in his ward. Mention the family member’s name and have your bishop’s name and phone number ready to go. This is about as difficult as it can get with firesides.

For schools and universities it’s a little more complicated. Put together a synopsis of what you will be speaking on in addition to a bio and purpose. Look on the web for the email addresses of principals in the select area you will be doing a book signing in and email them the synopsis. Follow up within the week to see if the synopsis was received and find out what you can do to expedite matters. For universities, call the general information number and explain who you are and what you’d like to do. They’ll direct you to the appropriate department.

That’s it! That’s as difficult as it gets. You simply have to reach out and make it happen.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Special Order a Thicker Skin

Since my new novel, Time Will Tell has been out for a month now, I’ve started to get some feedback on it—some good, some not-so-good. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer, it’s that if you have a thin skin and you want to be a writer, you better special order a thicker one. There’s always someone who has an opinion on your book, and it won’t be the same as your mom’s opinion of your work. The trick is, to use the feedback you receive, whether it’s positive or negative and make yourself a better writer. The positive feedback is really easy to hear, "I loved your book,"-- type comments are part of the reason why we become writers. Yet, the most helpful feedback is to say what you loved about the book. Did you love the setting? The dialogue? The characters? It’s the same on the flip side. If someone says, "I hate your book," then, as a writer we take a deep breath, smile and say, "Oh really? What did you hate about it?" When we’ve gotten specifics, then it’s our job as a writer to take those opinions and where possible, use it on our learning curve.

In our quest to use the feedback and make yourself a better writer, however, you can’t be a people pleaser, or you’ll end up insane. For example, a reviewer recently said that she didn’t like my happy ending. Yet, fans tell me they really like the happy ending. I had someone tell me that my books make him tired with all the action and suspense, and several other men tell me that’s why they read my books. If I tried to please everyone, I should definitely have alternate ending chapters so the people who wanted a happy ending would be happy, and the ones who wanted a more gritty ending could be happy, too. I would also have a lot more down-time for my secret agents to rest, play some checkers, get some strawberry frappucinos, you know, relax a little more before jumping out of tall buildings and saving the world from mass destruction. I guess my point is, it would just be hard to use every bit of feedback and still stay true to myself and the characters I’ve created. So, I take the feedback, use what I can and smile and thank everyone else.

Where it gets hard to paste a smile on your face and thank someone is usually when they are saying what they didn’t like about your book. I recently had someone tell me that they thought one of my characters was possibly gay and my villain had a personality disorder. Since I created the characters and knew neither of these things were true, I felt compelled to defend myself. "He’s not gay," I said. "He just has piano hands. Long, slender, fingers. That’s all. And my villain doesn’t have a personality disorder. He just got in over his head." And she said to me, "Well, being the writer you know what’s in the minds of these people. As a reader, I’m telling you what I thought." So true. It’s amazing to me how different perspectives there can be on storyline and character and while I know what I meant, a reader’s opinion is no less valuable and shows me where I could be more clear next time.

A friend of mine recently saw a really negative review about his book, and he made a comment that I thought was especially telling. He said in essence that a few years ago, comments like that would have really hurt him, but now he wishes the reader would have given him more specific suggestions so he can help his writing. That is the place every writer wants to be—where you use criticism and feedback to help your writing, and it goes beyond the personal level.

So after you’ve taken all the criticism, defended your characters and writing, used all the feedback to become a better writer . . .that’s when you need to stop and take a deep breath. Build yourself back up, remember why you wanted to be a writer in the first place and shed your newly special ordered thick skin as you dial your mother’s number. Then you can smile, knowing that if nothing else, you’ll always have one person on the planet who thinks you’re incredible just the way you are.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Give LDS Fiction a Chance

by Stephanie Black

“I don’t like LDS fiction.” “LDS fiction is cheesy.” “LDS fiction is sappy.” “LDS fiction is trite and poorly written.”

Anyone out there view any of the above statements as true?

Okay. What if I remove “LDS” from the statements, but otherwise leave them the same? Anyone still agree with them? Well, maybe the first one. Some people simply don’t care for made-up stories and prefer to spend their reading time with non-fiction. But I doubt that any fiction reader would dismiss the entire body of fiction—of all genres—as sappy, cheesy, trite, or what have you. Some fiction IS unquestionably sappy, LDS or otherwise. Some fiction is cheesy, some is poorly written.

But not all of it.

If you are in the habit of dismissing LDS fiction as worthless, please choose the answer below that most closely reflects the reasons behind your dislike of LDS fiction.

A—I’ve sampled a variety of LDS novels by a variety of authors, established and new, and none of it was really to my taste.

B—I’ve sampled several LDS novels in the genre or genres that I like to read in mainstream fiction and didn’t feel they matched up to their national equivalents.

C—I read an LDS romance novel in 1991 and thought it was cheesy.

D—I read half an LDS romance novel in 1991 and thought it was cheesy.

E—I read “Charly” when I was in junior high and didn’t like crying at the end.

F—I’ve never read any LDS fiction, but someone told me it was sappy.

If you answered A or B, we authors would love to hear what you didn’t like about the novels you read. Where did they let you down? How can we improve? Let’s talk.

If you answered C-F, please give the market another chance. Bestselling author Jennie Hansen made the point that it strikes her as ridiculous when someone says they don’t like LDS fiction, but the only LDS fiction they’ve read is a romance novel—while in the national market, their taste is in techno-thrillers. Try some LDS novels that match your reading interests. If you prefer romances, try some LDS romances and enjoy reading a novel where you never have to worry about skipping pages due to objectionable content. If you prefer mysteries or thrillers, try an LDS mystery or thriller.

If you click on the links at the right showing the most recent releases of our blog contributors, you’ll see that even among the six authors on this blog, there’s plenty of variety. Candace's latest release is a book of true stories. Jeff's is a mystery. Julie's is romantic suspense. Rob's is humorous suspense. Sariah's (to be released in July) is a historical romance. Mine is a semi-futuristic thriller.

We're not sure what genre the frog prefers. He won't tell us what he's working on. Any guesses?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Bubbles are nice, but people are nicer than bubbles

by Robison Wells

I grew up watching Mr. Rogers, and I was always a sucker for his operas. I remember with fondness the misunderstood villain Wicked Knife and Fork. All he ever wanted as a spoon! But all they ever gave him was a knife and fork – they even called him Wicked Knife and Fork. That, my friends, is the kind of inner turmoil that Pulitzer-winning novels are made of.

But by far the best of Mr. Roger’s operas was the stunning Windstorm in Bubbleland. In it, the trusty news anchorman is busily spreading propaganda (“There’s never, never, never, never, never any trouble here in Bubbleland!”) and he advertises the newest product to hit store shelves: Spray Sweater. Fortunately for all involved, Betty Aberlin, the town sweater-knitter, discovers that there’s nothing in the aerosol cans of Spray Sweater at all – just air! And worse than that, W.I. Norton Donovan, the president of the Spray Sweater Company, is behind the malicious plot: his true identity, as his initials indicate, is The Wind! And by conning the citizens of Bubbleland to spray more air into the atmosphere, the wind gets stronger! And, as you know, wind and bubbles mix about as well as spoons and forks.

Meanwhile, Hildegard Hummingbird (who has some sort of sordid, but unexplored, history with the wind) has left Bubbleland because she’s underappreciated. Well, as you can imagine, without Hildegard there to protect them, the town’s a bubbleless shambles. They (the news anchor, Betty Aberlin, the weather-reporting Porpoise – The Porpoise With a Purpose, the banana-boat captain, and the street vendor bubble lady) all run down to the waterside to see firsthand the horrors of wind.
Never fear, however. Hildegard Hummingbird returns just in the nick of time, and although when she faces down the wind she loses (in a blowing vs. wing-flapping competition), yet she still inspires the motley crew of Bubblelandians to try flapping their own wings! They do, and the wind is driven away. (The moral of the story, according to Hildegard, is: You can blow more bubbles, but you can’t blow more you.)

I promise I have a point. It's coming up in a moment.

In the episodes leading up to the opera, King Friday made a royal decree that the Land of Make Believe would perform an opera, and it would feature: sweaters, bubbles, a porpoise, and a hummingbird. How they crammed it all together was up to them. (And with such instructions, it should be no surprise that Chef Brockett said “Oh! I’ll be the banana boat captain!” and all the others said “Great idea!”)

So, what does it have to do with writing? This is how I put together a book. I, just like King Friday, get a bunch of ideas into my head, and cram them all together until they work. For my first book, On Second Thought, I had the ideas: an observatory that everyone hates, lost Spanish gold, and a tomato greenhouse. Then Chef Brockett piped up with “I’ll be the extreme right-wing conspiracy nut!”

My second book was more of the same. I’d just finished my bachelors degree in Political Science, and I’d focused almost entirely on the theoretical rather than the procedural (I could expound for hours on the Democratic Peace theory, but to this day I don’t have the slightest idea how the city council works). Wake Me When It’s Over sprung almost entirely from three concepts: (1) the American dollar is only worth what we believe it is, (2) the Berlin Wall fell because of a very poor press release, and (3) scrapbook stores are, for all intents and purposes, evil.

Lately, since my next book is proving to be driven much more by character than plot, my idea-collecting has come from observing people. Three interesting events have stuck in my head.

First: I was sitting in a restaurant, by myself. A young woman ran in from the street, urgently needing a napkin. She wasn’t a customer, but she was very demanding, and refused to explain the problem. What was she doing? Why did she need it? I was seated facing away from the windows, so I never learned the answer.

Second: I was sitting at the pharmacy, waiting for a prescription to be filled. A middle-aged woman came in and browsed the store shelves. She was in no hurry, and very carefully studied every item she picked up -- she’d read the package for a few minutes, and then set it back on the shelf. She was wearing a finely tailored coat that had a 1950s look to it, though it was obviously modern. Likewise, her shoes were high-heeled, but very June Cleaver. At long last, she bought a Do-It-Yourself Home Drug Test, and left.

Third: My wife and I were in a small town in central Utah. We were passing through, and stopped for lunch at a small café. After eating, we crossed the street to a used bookshop, hoping to find a book on CD. The woman behind the counter had a nose ring. The only other customer was a tall, Marlboro-man type cowboy. He had a plaid shirt and cowboy hat, and his graying mustache was thick and overgrown. As my wife and I browsed the audio books, he moved silently from shelf to shelf. At the front counter, we bought Nicholas Nickleby. He bought The 9/11 Commission Report.

Three brief instances, none of which is all that remarkable, but they all have stuck with me for one reason: there’s obviously more to the story. That stupid napkin thing was at least two years ago, and yet it’s still jammed in my mental files, waiting to one day be found and used.

Will I ever cram these three ideas into one book? I doubt it. But it’s interesting to imagine what kind of story I’d have if I did. The important thing is to always be on the watch for ideas, because you never know when you’ll stumble across something great.

Maybe the home drug test was for the banana-boat captain?

A word from the frog himself!


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

by Sariah S. Wilson

I belong to the Ohio Valley chapter of the Romance Writers of America (as well as the Beau Monde, a Regency chapter, but that’s not really pertinent to this story) and I attended a chapter meeting today. The first hour is all about conducting business and then after that we have really interesting presentations and lectures.

Today three published authors, Dianne Castell, Toni Blake and Lori Foster (she’s a New York Times bestseller), talked to us (and all three gave amazing talks - I felt like I could have sat and soaked it up all day). Dianne, a speaker I absolutely love to listen to, gave an update on what’s currently hot in the romance market.

Books with a large amount of sex are all the rage right now, the hotter and more graphic the better. These are books I will never write and books I don’t read. I have so many published authors in my chapter that I can’t read because honestly, that’s not my thing. I don’t want it in my head.

I recently read a book (NOT from someone in my chapter) that came highly recommended. I loved the heroine and hero. I loved the build up, the tension between them. Then about halfway through the book they make love, and that’s pretty much all they did for the next 200 pages. I kept trying to skip over those parts and ended up skipping all the way to the end of the book because those parts never ended.

Eloisa James recently remarked on her blog that some very famous romance writers turned to different genres like suspense or mysteries because there’s only so many ways you can write love scenes, and they got tired of it.

Brenda Novak (don’t you love all the namedropping I’m doing here?) last night asked on the LDSFictionReaders loop if we thought romance novels were all about the sex.

They shouldn’t be.

Have you seen the movie version of Louisa May Alcott’s “The Inheritance?” Cheesy sort of thing (I believe Ms. Alcott wrote it when she was 17 and somebody dug it up after her death and published it. See Stephanie’s earlier post on why she thinks this is such a bad idea). But it has one of the most romantic gestures I’ve ever seen. The hero falls for the heroine and wants to court her. But she’s only a lowly companion and not worthy of his attention or affection. He keeps persisting, she keeps resisting. They go on a group picnic one day and the heroine’s friend takes a misstep and nearly falls off the side of a cliff. The heroine grabs her, dislocating her own shoulder, and the hero rushes in and saves both women.

Now, the heroine was an orphan. The people she lived with had found her as a young child and brought her into their home. The only thing she had from her mother was a scarf. While saving her friend, the scarf fell off the heroine’s neck and fluttered down to the bottom of the cliff. When the heroine realized it was missing, she started to run back to see if she could find where the scarf landed. It was so important to her because it was all she had of her family. The hero sensibly stops her, saying they need medical attention.

The next morning, the hero comes to visit and brings the heroine a gift. Guess what it is? Yup. The scarf. When you think about how much the scarf meant to the heroine, when you think about the extraordinary lengths the hero had to go to in order to get the scarf back, it is utterly, totally, and completely romantic (and somewhere Rob Wells’ brother is thinking, “Holy lame”).

That’s what romance is about. That’s what I read it for.

Which brings us to the other end of the spectrum. You know what other market is doing incredibly well right now? Inspirationals. Those are books that may have spiritual undertones, but are essentially what the market calls “sweet,” i.e., just kissing (if that). The book has to be about the romance and the characters falling in love, because people don’t want to read all that other stuff.

I find it endlessly fascinating that the two fastest growing markets in romance are such polar opposites.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Realigning the Universe

I have deadlines looming all over the place on so many things that yesterday I spent most of the day blogging for, reading all kinds of fiction from fantasy to romantic suspense to a suspense novel involving a Templar wanna be. Why would I do that you ask? Well, it’s pretty simple. It alternated between rain and snow all day. As Julie said, earlier in the week the sun was shining. I was out in my garden getting it ready for planting. Pulling up the grass that had grown there - that’s an insidious thing - grass. Oh, and I was pulling it up a section at a time thinking to myself, they have machines that do this now. But hey, it was me against the weeds and grass and I was determined to win.

The whole time I was doing this I was contemplating a plot problem in one of the books I’m working on. I have to tell you, there’s nothing like the sun at your back, a slight breeze in the air and your hands in the dirt. I had a flashback to childhood when I would happily pour water into a hole I’d just dug in the lawn and make myself I nice big ol’ mud pie. When I was a kid I didn’t care about bugs. Now I do - I reached for a stick to discover it was the longest worm ever - eeewwwww! Anyway, back to writing.

This is a great way to work the kinks out, shake off winter (even when it persistently keeps coming back (that’s Utah for ya)), and get the cobwebs out of your brain - so to speak. There’s something about connecting with the earth that, I swear (really I do), aligns the universe and makes everything right with my little world. By the time I was done I’d fixed the problem with my plot and was in there typing away madly when my husband arrived home.

After spending the day reading, a couple of hours before I had get ready to go speak to a group I was suddenly inundated with book idea after book idea. Plots just forming themselves without any guidance as I tried to get everything down. Dreams Die Hard the sequel to Out of the Shadows . . . Into the Light, suddenly quit being my problem child and I was working on it as well. Finally, everything was starting to flow and I had to go do hair and makeup before going to speak. Huh, a victim of my own planning. Go figure.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Dreaded Book Signing

by Jeffrey S Savage

(I know, Monday was my turn. But I've been on the road and this was the first chance I got. Sorry.)

Today Sariah and I were discussing marketing options for her new book. It was refreshing to have someone grasp the concept prior to the publication of their first book that marketing is required. You can’t just buy a cabin in the woods with your royalties, curl up with your handy dandy laptop and write to your heart’s content while the $$$ roll in.

Is that the way it should be? Of course. Leave the schmoozing to Hollywood types who love to be in the limelight. Let us antisocial writers let our books do our talking. But the truth of the matter is that even the biggest writers had to get there by doing marketing. Stephen King hates talk shows, but he still does them. James Patterson was probably the hardest working author is the business when he started. Joe Konrath is a fulltime writer who spends one month a year writing and the rest marketing full time. He hasn’t taken a vacation in five years. And guess what? He just signed his second three book six figure deal with Hyperion. I’ll bet even Shakespeare handed out fliers to his plays.

So, let’s talk about the most common and most hated (by many authors) of the marketing gigs—the book signing. When your first book comes out, you are so jazzed to do book signings. What’s not to like, right? People wait in line, they tell you how great your books are, and you sign your name. Piece of cake, right?

Then you get to the store and the only people who actually come to see you are your parents. Everyone else comes in the door, sees that an author is signing, and avoids you like the bird flu. Where are all the fans where are all the gushing admirers of your work? Turns out you actually have to sell your books. You have to convince people to part with their hard earned dollars to buy something you, (who are not Gerald Lund, Anita Stansfield, or Dean Hughes) wrote.

A typical conversation can go something like this.

“Hi, have you heard about my new book?” you ask brightly.

“No,” they answer warily.

“It’s a (fill in your genre here)” you reply eagerly.

“I don’t like that genre,” they answer tartly. “My brother reads that kind of stuff.”

“Why don’t you get it as a gift for him,” you suggest, slyly.

“Cause he’s dead,” they finish the conversation completely.

After this has happened roughly twelve dozen times, and you calculate that you have spent 22 hours and 26 gallons of gas, all to sell 7 books, you decide that you won’t do any more book signings. That’ll show all those ingrate who hate (fill in your genre.) What you don’t realize is that you are not hurting them you are hurting yourself. Why? I’ll list just a few of the reasons.

1) Your publisher sets up these signings. If you turn them down, you are telling your publisher that you do not want to participate in the marketing of your own books. You may not feel it right away, but I guarantee that the amount of effort and dollars spent on you by your publisher WILL decrease. That time and money will go to the people who agree to do all the signings.

2) Bookstore employees like to sell the books of people they like. You can’t get that any other way than getting into their store and helping them sell your books. Want to see your sales drop? Refuse to do a signing or do a poor signing. (See below) The employees will stop recommending your books and your sales will drop.

3) No one knows how to sell your book better than you. You come up with a pitch that works and all the bookstore employees will start using that same pitch. I have bookstore employees all across the western US telling their customers that if they can figure out the end to House of Secrets before they get there, they can e-mail me and I’ll give them my next book free.

4) Even if you only sell two books, that is at a minimum two people who will look for your next book when it comes out. And it’s probably a lot more, because people who didn’t buy your book now may buy it later. And if those two people like your book, they will spread the word and the book—thus expanding your base of readers.

There are a lot more reasons, but they all come down to the same thing—sales. So if you don’t care about sales, don’t do signings. And see how long your publisher sticks with you.

With that in mind, here are ten tips to make signings a happier experience for everyone involved.

1) Have fun. Get up. Get around. Help the customers find books, or scriptures, or paintings. If you see that the person is looking for a kid’s book, recommend one. Sell other people’s books. Talk to the employees about how you came up with your story, how long it took to write it, what your favorite part is. Your enthusiasm is contagious and the time will pass.

2) Do NOT focus on how many books you sell. If you try to calculate your earnings per hour on how many books you sell, you will quit going. It is not about how many books you sell that day—it’s about how many books the store will sell over the coming months.

3) Do NOT sit behind the table. Every signing I go to, I hear about the guy who sat reading a paper the whole time. The woman who brought her laptop and worked on her book. The primadonna (sp?) who demands extra table space and spends the whole time talking to the friend she brought. The store employees may not say anything to your face. But they will discuss you after you leave and it is not pretty. (These are all real stories by the way.)

4) Make up fliers for your book. People are a little intimidated when they see an author in the store. You don’t like to have to sell your book and they don’t like to feel pressured to buy your book. So hand them a flyer and say, “This tells about my book I’m signing. Feel free to ask me any questions you might have.” Easy. No pain. And it works.

5) Bring candy. I was doing a signing with a lovely woman who had her first book out. She looked at the candy dish on my table and asked why the store gave me a dish of candy to hand out and not her. I told her they loved me more.

6) Tell everyone who buys your book to lend it to everyone they know after they finish. Think you’re hurting your sales by doing this? Think about future sales. You are expanding your fan base.

7) Bring goodies for the store employees. My favorite is the chapter book. It is a short story or the first few chapters of your next book, printed in landscape and bound with cardstock. (E-mail me and I’ll send you an example.)

8) When people say, “I loved your book.” Ask them what their favorite part was. Discuss why you wrote that part. You’ll make friends and people will gather around to listen. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.

9) If you’ve written previous books make sure to mention them. People don’t always remember your name, but they will say, “Oh Cutting Edge. I loved that book. This is your new one? I have to buy that.” If you haven’t written any other books, don’t worry about it. Just talk about your current book.

10) When you sign with another author always buy a copy of their book. I know we are all on tight budgets, and you may not be into romances, or mysteries, or historical fiction. But buy it anyway. It’s a classy thing to do, and you can always give it as a gift.

New Book Club at Covenant

Covenant Communications, Inc., publisher extraordinaire, has started up an email list for interested readers. You can learn more about it by going to:

Underneath the book is a link to join their email list.

Covenant is also starting a book club (appropriately named Covenant Clubs) with all sorts of nifty benefits. If you're interested in starting a book club, you can contact Melissa Dalton of Covenant at for more information.

And I'll talk to anyone's book club on the phone. Seriously. Especially if you tell me how much you loved my book. ;)

Home Sweet Home

I had a really nice blog all ready to go for today. I liked it. It was a good blog. But then, I woke up this morning and my computer had crashed, and it was snowing. Not just snowing, but dumping like ten feet of snow. Mother Nature had teased us all week with wonderful weather, we’re-not-even-wearing-jackets kind of weather and then, here we are with snow, snow, snow.

It reminded me of home—back in Canada. It snows there, quite a bit actually. Not as much as Americans seem to think, or as Bob and Doug McKenzie portrayed, (take off, eh?) but it does snow. We don’t usually drive dog sleds, though, and no, I don’t have a dog sled license. An American actually asked me if there was a wall of ice at the border of the U.S. and Canada and that’s how you knew you were in Canada. The dog sled thing? Yeah, I’ve been asked that about a million times. I’ve been asked if Canadians know how to garden in the snow, if it’s true that appropriate baby shower gifts for Canadian babies are ice skates and mittens. (It is true that every Canadian town or city, no matter how big or small will have two things—a church and an ice rink.) It’s quite funny, actually. It’s sort of like the "eh" thing. Canadians do not use it after every sentence. It’s sort of like how American’s use the word, "huh?" It’s for emphasis or to make a sentence a question. But somehow the Canadian "eh" has gotten more mileage and jokes than the American "huh."

We don’t take ourselves too seriously though. We know what we’re about and we’re okay with that. Canadians are some of the best educated in the world, we invented such games as basketball, we claim such celebrities as Jim Carrey and Michael J. Fox, and singers like Shania Twain and Celine Dion. We’re patriotic, fun-loving, easygoing people. Canada has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, and you could spend your life trying to see it all. I love going home to Canada and seeing canola fields as far as the eye can see, wheat granaries standing sentinel, and most of all, eating the food. I miss Canadian food sometimes. Luckily, my mom sends me care packages so I don’t get too homesick, and I’ve recently discovered a store here locally that sells Canadian candy. (For outrageous prices, though!) There’s nothing like a MacIntosh taffy or a bowl of Shreddies cereal, but a Crispy Crunch or a Caramilk is the only thing that will satisfy a true choc-a-holic. Canadian chocolate is to die for. I also love being able to walk into a restaurant in Canada and ask for fries and gravy, and not have the waitress look at you like you have two heads. And I miss being able to have beautiful money that isn’t all the same color. Canadian money is a work of art. Beautiful colors that help you distinguish whether you’ve got a ten or a fifty. And no dollar bills at all. You have coins for $1 or $2, affectionately called loonies and toonies.

I love my Canadian heritage, but at the same time, I love being an American as well. The two countries are so alike, yet so different. Canada has supported the U.S. in every war they’ve ever been in, and Canadian soldiers have died next to their U.S. brothers. My grandfather received a medal of commendation from the President of the United States because it was his unit who saved an American battalion pinned against a hill during the Korean war. During 9/11, Canada was the first country to offer help to the U.S., immediately sending emergency personnel over the border as well as taking all the re-routed planes that could not land in the U.S. President Bush has called Canada a "brother" to the U.S., and I think that is a true statement. The relationship between these two countries is so individual, yet so intertwined, much like we are in our church. We are each individuals, responsible for our own actions, yet our lives are intertwined because we are brothers and sisters in the gospel.

So today, during this snowstorm, I am reminded of how much I miss my home country, and how blessed I am to live in the country that I do. It is truly the best of both worlds. Now give me some of that Canadian chocolate! Hurry!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Counterfeit

My next book finally has a cover.

It's scheduled for July release. I'm no end of excited.

A Few Incoherent Opinions

by Stephanie Black

Strangely enough, it’s April. Since this is the month when I plan to submit my manuscript and I’ve still got a couple of weeks worth of work left, logic would dictate that I’d better not spend too much time blogging.

Of course, logic would also dictate that I shouldn’t have been reading that Mary Higgins Clark novel yesterday, but I was ensnared by my own good intentions. After a long period of slug-hood, I decided to start exercising, and I wanted something to read while I was on the exercise machine. What better choice than Mary Higgins Clark, the queen of the page-turner? The problem, of course, arose when I picked up the book when I wasn’t exercising. But truly, I didn’t read it for very long . . .

So just a few quick thoughts.

1—I love the way writing stays done, unlike—VERY unlike—housework. When you write a novel, you don’t open the book fifteen minutes later and find all the words scattered around the pages in random fashion or spilling onto the floor to be ground into the carpet.

2—I admire people who can draft novels longhand. I have to be able to edit as I draft (and then my work still needs lots of revision). As Dorothy Parker said, “I can’t write five words but that I change seven.”

3—Fizzly endings bug me. This is when tension builds throughout a thriller or a mystery just like it should, but then you get to the big final confrontation and you feel like, “That’s IT? That’s ALL?” I once read a fun novel—it was a terrific story, a very gripping mystery—but then the unmasking of the villain was so anticlimactic that I turned the page hoping that the accused villain wasn’t the real villain after all, and there would be a big twist and then a rocketing forward to the real climax. Not so. The remainder of the novel was spent wrapping up the romance angle.

If you want a great example of a non-fizzly ending, read Jeffrey Savage’s “House of Secrets.” Every time you think you have it figured out, there’s another twist. Every time you think the heroine is about to escape, wham!—back in peril. It’s awesome.

4—Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” has some great songs, but Ariel is a doofus. She’s sixteen and she wants to go marry some guy about whom she knows nothing and has nothing in common just because he was so cute playing the flute and dancing with his dog. Of course, Eric is equally dumb, so maybe it’s a fair match. My teenage daughter suggests I’m taking the story a bit too seriously.

5—I don’t find Heathcliff in “Wuthering Heights” to be an appealing romantic hero. Not an easy guy to root for. I want to like my heroes.

6—One of the most hilarious books I’ve ever read is Connie Willis’s “To Say Nothing of the Dog.” Time travel, chaos theory and Victorian England. It’s a riot. Go read it.

And now, back to fixing what’s wrong in my book, the goal being to avoid another Dorothy Parker-ism: “This is not a novel that should be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Sunrise, Sunset

by Robison Wells

Today is my birthday. I'm mentioning this at the beginning so that I can come back to it later, but rest assured: I will come back to it.

A year or so ago I took the Meyers-Briggs personality test. I've taken many personality tests in my life, though I don't really know why. I know what I'm like – why do I need a test to remind me? (And, when the test is accurate, why am I surprised? I mark the answers indicating I'm disorganized and lazy, and it returns the results: "You're disorganized and lazy." And rather than realize that I just told the test those things, I marvel at its precision. It's like speaking to a paper prophet, says I.)

Anyway, the tests I've taken are myriad, and the results are all over the chart. I took a big set of tests back when I was just beginning at the community college, wondering what career path I should pursue. The answer? Either chemical engineering or Catholic priesting. (I'm not sure how the test was designed, but every single Returned Missionary I knew was told that joining the ranks of the paid clergy was a good idea.)

I recently took The Color Code test, on the recommendation of Candace Salima, who recently taught a writing class on using the code to better develop your fictional characters. That test told me that I'm very very white (I must have marked the Can't Jump box), that I'm a little red and blue, and a teensy tiny bit yellow. (And, whereas in the real world being yellow is negative (you're a coward), in The Color Code yellow means you like to party all the time. Call me a stick-in-the-mud, I guess.)

Anyway, the Meyers-Briggs test told me that I'm an INTP (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceiving). Of this personality, it is said: "INTPs are pensive, analytical folks. They may venture so deeply into thought as to seem detached, and often actually are oblivious to the world around them." Kinda sweet, eh? I'm not introverted because I don't like to party – I'm introverted because I venture so deeply into thought.

However, the description continues: "A major concern for INTPs is the haunting sense of impending failure." And this, my friends, is where my birthday comes in to the picture.

The thing is, I'm getting old. Time continues to fly by at a break-neck pace, and I wake up some mornings, look around me, and say "Wait – it's 2006? Wasn't it 1999, like, three days ago?" And ultimately, my problem is that I just can't keep up. I look at my job, and I look at my book-writing career, and I look at all the little things I want to do in my life (like paint pretty pictures or travel the world), and I just can't imagine it happening. Because I'm getting old, and must soon pass on. I have one foot in the grave.

It's not like I'm failing currently. I write books, and they get published, and people buy them. But will I ever be the next Jack Weyland? The LDS Dan Brown? Will I ever visit Tblisi, or climb the steps of Angkor Wat? Will my oil paintings ever get third place in the state fair? The haunting sense of impending failure, my friends. I'll give it a week before my life comes crashing down like a house of cards.

So as the sands of time trickle through the hourglass of cliché, I watch another birthday come and go. My hair is turning gray. My knees crack when I stand up. And this summer is my ten-year high school reunion. I'm twenty-eight. I might as well be dead.

Monday, April 03, 2006

No. 65 with a Bullet

by Sariah S. Wilson

Well, maybe not so much a bullet.

My first book isn't due to be released until July, but apparently Deseret Book already has a SKU number and is offering my book for pre-order.

I started out at #160. Even that was exciting - just to see my title and my name up on a site where you could actually BUY MY BOOK.

Then last week I was at #80. Oh so thrilling.

But today, today I'm at #65!


You can take a look here:

I'm 65! I'm 65! I'm 65! :)