Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Poll for Readers, or Please Write My Blog For Me

by Stephanie Black

In last week’s blog, I discussed the question Jeff Savage raised about formulas in genre novels and how irked I would be if a mystery ended with the crime not solved. A post by Steven in the comment trail sparked a brief discussion about reader expectations for LDS fiction. Today I’d like to continue that discussion.

What are the formulas for LDS fiction—or are there any (beyond the fact that readers expect it to be clean)? For example, Steven suggested that people expect the climax of the book to highlight an LDS teaching (“The Lesson”), even in humorous fiction. (Steven, I hope you don’t mind my borrowing your comments for this blog—I found them very interesting).

What are YOUR expectations when you pick up an LDS novel? Do those expectations apply no matter what type of LDS novel you’re reading (mystery, romance, suspense, sci fi, historical, literary, etc.)?

If you feel there are formulas that apply to LDS fiction, do you like or dislike those formulas? For example, if you expect that an LDS novel will have specifically LDS content—characters who are members of the church, references to the church and so on--would it bother you if a novel didn’t contain specific LDS references?

What would induce you to pick up an LDS novel over a national market novel? Or vice versa?

Do you read the same genre in LDS fiction that you do in the national market? (For instance, you read both LDS and national market historicals) or do you have different reading tastes for national and LDS books (you read LDS romances but national mysteries)?

What would you like to see more of in the LDS market?

I am now attentively awaiting your feedback. Post away!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Tradition! Tradition!

by Robison E. Wells

So, yesterday was Memorial Day, and in my family we have a kind of unusual tradition: we visit cemetaries. Yes, when you are on your way up the canyon, anxiously looking forward to fishin' or campin', and you pass a bunch of sorry saps wandering the graveyard, that's me.

Actually, the tradition is not mine. It's my wife's crazy family's. Hoo boy, what an insane posse of crazies! Now, I'm all in favor of visiting the dead. By no means am I anti-dead. In fact, some of my best friends and relatives are dead (my grandparents, for example), and I respect their unique world view. But my wife's crazy family takes this dead-visiting to all kinds of ridiculous extremes.

Let's say that you marry into the family. For example, you marry Christina, my wife's eligible sister. (Congratulations, by the way - she's quite the catch!) Well, on your first Memorial Day as one of the fam, you might think "We'll just run up to the cemetary, drop off some flowers, and then go fishing!" Think again, fatboy. You're logic is flawed in oh-so-many ways.

First, it's not just one cemetery, it's, like, a dozen. (I don't know how many, really, because I'm catatonic before we get halfway through.) Seriously, who knew this family had so many dead relatives? Perhaps you're starting to wonder whether this death-prone family is one you want to be part of? Well, too late, fatboy. You're already hitched.

Second, you can't just go here, and then go there, and then go to the next place. On the contrary, you go here, wait for everybody to show up (all the extended, non-dead relatives) and then march as a troop up to the gravestones. Then, when the festivities there are complete (as described below) you all march back down to the convoy of vehicles, and head to the next cemetery. It's like a funeral processional, but for everyone who has ever died.

Third, you don't just place flowers, fondly remember your dead great-uncle, and then go. Are you kidding? Where's the pain in that? Actually, you get to the gravestone, and everyone sets up their folding chairs, and someone spreads out blankets, and the kids play hide and seek while the adults complain about the weather. This lasts about an hour, or until one of the kids starts screaming (for whatever reason: injuries, lack of sharing, fear of ghosts, etc.).

Fourth, if you ever try to find something fun to do, such as go and sit on the wall of the cemetery and applaud as cars drive by, then inevitably some old lady will get out of her station wagon and tell you to have some respect for the dead. Seriously: what the heck?

You know what I want to do? Just show up at the graveside circle with a big bucket of KFC under my arm. It's already a park outing -- why not make it a picnic? (I'll tell you why not: because they'd probably think it's such a rad idea that they'd institute it every year, and lug along the barbeque.) ("Would you like your steak medium, well done, or cremated?")

Not that I should be complaining. I get endless pleasure out of the event every year in the form of this: mocking it. And truth be told, I haven't gone for the last two years. I can't remember what I was doing last year, but this year I had to help someone move. He even had a piano, and yet I leapt (leapt!) at the chance to help him move and get out of the Cemetery Reunion. So, while the wife and kids were grave hopping, I was loading and unloading a truck. In fact, we loaded the truck, drove to the new house, and unloaded the truck, and did it all in half the time it takes for the Memorial Day Marathon to end. So, I walked to the movie theater and watched The Da Vinci Code.

And to my relatives who read this, this blog has one thing in common with The Da Vinci Code: while based on fact, it's shamelessly embellished for sake of the story. And to those of you not related to me, this blog has one thing in common with The Da Vinci Code: its main characters are murderous zealots, obsessed with the dead. So Dark The Con of Memorial Day.

Monday, May 29, 2006

A New Toy

By Jeffrey S Savage

This is the time of year when I usually decide that I am going to train for a marathon in October. (Sometimes I actually do run the marathon, sometimes not.) The first thing I do is chart out the number of miles I need to train and the time I have left to run them. There are a couple of really good internet sites where you can download this type of information, complete with really great charts to keep you on track.

Well this year I don’t think I’ll run a marathon, but I do have a new national book I’d really like to finish over the next three months. With that in mind, I thought I’d make myself a little chart to track how much I’ve written and how much I have left to go.

James Dashner—a fellow author, geek, great guy, and also a CPA—gave a presentation on writing children’s fiction where he showed a nifty little spreadsheet he made to do just that. So, being even geekier than James (if that’s possible) I tried adding a few doohickeys.

The resulting spreadsheet is actually pretty cool, if you can say that about a spreadsheet. It lets you enter how long you think your book will be, how many weeks you are giving yourself to finish it, what days of the week you will write, and how many days you’ll take off. Then it tells you how many words you have to write per day, compares your actual writing to the plan, graphs your percentage done, and tells you how many days you have left. (You can even put your own book cover in to use as a graph bar.)

There are a few things I’m thinking about adding (like a calculation of how many days you have left based on your actual writing and not just the plan, and maybe something you could wire directly to your brain that would just write the darn book for you) but all in all, I think it’s kind of fun. If you want a copy, just e-mail me at and I’ll send it to you. (Let me know what version of Microsoft Excel you have.) And have a wonderful Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Artist Formerly Known As

By Sariah S. Wilson

I have an announcement. My name is too long.

And as such, it has been changed from Sariah Salisbury Wilson to Sariah S. Wilson by The Powers That Be. I promise that I’m not trying to copy Jeff or Rob (I was actually initially trying to copy Julie, but oh well), and while I did consider having it be just Sariah Wilson it made my mom and dad so happy to think that Salisbury would be on the cover that I’ve left the S there. Plus, it has a nice alliterative-type ring to it, don’t you think? Sariah S. Wilson. All those S sounds.

I should also probably let you blog readers know that my first book, alas and alack, will not be coming out in July. To make a very long story short, it now tentatively seems as if it will be released February of 2007. I know, I know. It will be very hard for you to wait. But I think we can all make it through this wait together. Just think how much more time you’ll have to anticipate! ;)

I’m excited to welcome Frederick the Frog to our midst. For those of you who are aspiring writers, Frederick has offered his services in answering any questions you may have or reviewing a query letter or short synopsis. This is a chance to get your webbed feet in the door. You can reach Frederick at:

On a totally unrelated topic, I’ve seen three movies in the past week or so - Da Vinci Code (which was fine, but not a great movie. I’d love to hear from someone who hasn’t read the book or knows what it’s about that saw the movie), X-Men: The Last Stand (which I also enjoyed - I’ve loved Bobby and Rogue from the last two movies and was excited to see how their story played out in the third one, and I also didn’t think this one was as bad as the critics said it was) and Over The Hedge with my boys today, which they absolutely loved. It was a fun family movie, and I would recommend it for anyone wondering whether or not it was any good.

Check back next week to make sure that Sariah S. Wilson isn’t too long. Maybe I’ll pull a Cher or Madonna and just be Sariah.

Maybe I should just be S. Secrets in Zarahemla by S. What do you think?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Do You Believe It or Not?

Do you ever wonder about passion? I’m not talking about the passion of Christ or the kind of passion we leave out of G-rated LDS novels. I’m talking about the passion (fervor, ardor, zeal) that we children of God all seem to share—the passion to create. Most of us work at it every day, whether at a keyboard, a drawing board, or in studios, kitchens, or classrooms around the world. I think the creative impulse is hardwired into our brains, so I don’t wonder why we do it. I wonder why we create what we do. My feeling is that’s where passion comes in.

I’ve been thinking about this since Jeff’s “Road Less Traveled” blog on Monday and Stephanie's follow up on Wednesday. As writers, why do we choose to write what we do? Does it depend on where our passion lies? If our most fervent desire is to produce a published work that will be read by millions (or, in my case, dozens) of people, then as Josh Whedon suggested we’re probably better off traveling the roads all those people are on. The exception is if we were blessed with the light of someone like Faulkner. (Forget rules of structure, he often ignored rules of punctuation and still did okay for himself.) An maybe talent isn't the only exception.

I don’t think the pursuit of fame and fortune is the reason every writer writes, but if it’s your motivation, it wouldn't hurt to start wishing on stars and picking four leaf clovers. Frankly, your chances of being struck by lightning are roughly the same as making the New York Times’ bestseller list. (It happens all the time, but not usually to people we know.) For my part, I simply enjoy putting characters on a page so I can follow them around for awhile to see what they’ll get into. I am not recommending this technique as a “professional author,” by the way. I am merely admitting it's what I do. For a reminder of how successful I am at it, refer to “dozens of readers” above.

I don’t think I’m the only oddball creator. In fact, I’m sure I’m not. I recently visited one of the many Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museums. I love those places! I bypass the macabre and sensational—shriveled heads and pictures of fat women do nothing for me since I have a mirror at home. What I marvel at are the creations. In the center of the Texas museum is a 24-foot high model of the Eiffel Tower constructed from 110,000 toothpicks and five gallons of glue. I must have stood there for ten minutes wondering who would create that…and why.

It wasn’t the most amazing thing I saw. There was an awe-inspiring picture of Christ that from a few steps away looked like a charcoal sketch. When you looked closer, however, it turned out to be the Gospel of John (yes, all of it) rendered in some of the world’s teensiest calligraphy. How long did that take? Was its creator bored to desperation, possessed, or uniquely inspired?

And yet that wasn’t the most unbelievable creation either. The most awesome to me was a gorgeous, tremendously life-like picture of an ocean liner. The artist was so skilled you could almost see the ship move through the water while the sun glinted off its bow and seagulls circled overhead. It could have taken center stage in a bona fide art museum. At least it could have if it hadn’t been painted on the head of a pin. You had to look through a microscope to see it and the plaque said the artist had painted it using a single human hair. Who would do that? Who could do it? Why would he do it even if he could?

These are passions I don’t understand, and yet admire. Forget the roads less traveled, some creative souls forge paths through the wilderness! And isn’t that a good thing? If your passion leads you off the well-trod paths of genre fiction, I say go for it! Believe it or not (I had to work that in somewhere and I’m running out of blog) nobody had written a novel before Murasaki Shikibu penned The Story of Genji in 1007. Wasn't Mary Shelley, the wife of a renown poet, somewhat afield of the rose-strewn way when she wrote Frankenstein? Fantasy had been around since Beowulf, but it took Hugo Gernsback to set the publishing world on its soon-to-be pointed ear with science fiction. Most recently, and in our genre, who’d ever heard of an interactive novel? Not me. Then the brilliant Robison Wells schlepped along. All these people—and many successful creators like them—posses something beyond talent. They have passion.

Every day people around the world create beautiful, remarkable (and totally bizarre) works of art, music, and literature. I tend to buy a ticket to the show and then stand back to marvel. But that’s just me. What about you? Do you feel passionate about your creation? Pick up a lightning rod, why don’t you? Dare to step off the beaten path if that’s where inspiration beckons. Who’s to say the next lightning bolt of success isn’t headed your way?

I think I see it coming now.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Reluctant Reader

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I've always loved reading. It's very relaxing to me to curl up with a good book and lose myself in a story. I'm an English teacher because I wanted to share that love with others, and naturally, I assumed that all of my children would love reading as much as I did. I've read to all my children from the time they were babies and we celebrated when they were finally old enough to get their own library cards. We know the library ladies on a first name basis and have a family book club. Yet, out of my six children, I have two that do not love to read. I couldn't believe it! How could they not love it? It took me quite a while to understand where they were coming from, and see their point of view, but once I understood, I was able to do some small things to help them see that reading doesn't have to be something to be dreaded. I thought I'd share a few of those things with you today.

My reluctant readers will read articles, whether they're from the newspaper, the Friend or the New Era. The articles are generally short, have an ending they can physically see, and we discuss them. I am a mother who uses car and meal times to my advantage. They are my captive audience when I'm driving them somewhere or when we are at the dinner table, and that is the time I use to discuss interesting newspaper articles or whatever they've read in the magazines.

For example, we had a really interesting discussion when that 82 year old woman in California was given a $114 ticket because she couldn't get across the street fast enough and held up traffic. The policeman who was watching her charged her with obstructing traffic and ticketed her. When I brought it up to my children, we looked at it from each person's point of view. The older woman had a walker and couldn't walk very fast, but no one offered to help her either. The people in the traffic were anxious to get on their way and frustrated that she took so long. The policeman didn't help her and instead charged her with breaking the law. Then we talked about choices and how it could have ended better. So in the space of this little discussion we've talked about point of view, world perspectives, and choices and consequences, giving each child a chance to voice their opinion and think through their answers and I was surprised at what they had to say. I liked my eight year old's solution best when he thought that the policeman give the older woman a piggy back ride next time since everyone loves a piggy back ride. But the point was we discussed something that we had read about and had a good time doing it.

We also have a book shelf in every room and I try really hard to look for books that might interest them and to have lots of different genres--short stories, poetry, non-fiction, etc. We have times where I ask my older children to read to the younger children (we still visit the library often) and there is always the bed time story. Some of our most happy memories are the bedtime stories we've made up using our family members as the heroes and heroines.

President Hinckley said, "If we could follow a slogan that says, "Turn off the TV and open a good book," we would do something of substance in strengthening another generation . . . If you cannot find good heroes and heroines for your children on television, help your children find them in good books." I think we are at a time when reading, literacy and gaining knowledge is so important, not only because knowledge is one of the only things we will take with us beyond the veil, but because the young people around us need us to help prepare them to make right choices, to see other perspectives and to think with empathy and compassion, forming their own opinions and world views, especially with our knowledge of the gospel. What better place to plant those seeds than within your own families? The ripple could affect several generations and is of great worth. Every effort and encouragement can make reading fun---or at least tolerable---for the reluctant reader, they will see how important it is to you and perhaps start to find something they enjoy about it, and you will be making lasting memories with your children with eternal rewards.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

From My Lily Pad to Yours; or, There's a New Frog on the Pond

Frederick the Frog here, writing to you from the lovely shores of Tickarpy Swamp. Recently, my good friend Ike the Iguana put me in touch with one Miss Sariah, saying she was looking for a frog for her pond.

And here I am.

So, what am I doing here? That's a good question. There's a good chance I may end up just sitting here and catching flies, but that could get boring after awhile. So I will most likely natter on about whatever it is I feel inclined to natter on about--Mister Rob's always good to provide ample fodder for nattering. Maybe I'll harp on my writing pet peeves or philosophize about LDS publishing trends. Or maybe I'll borrow a page from Miss Snark's book and answer your publishing questions (kinda like LDS Publisher, but since my experiences are different, you'll likely get a different take from me). I like what Evil Editor is doing, so maybe I'll tackle a query letter or synopsis here and there. Ooh. Maybe it'd be fun to interpret rejection letters. I guess we'll see. In the meantime, feel free to send me questions. I may or may not answer them; I'm finicky that way.

Oh, and Miss Sariah tells me I should tell you why you care about my opinion. To be honest, you don't. (I know that we all look for that person who will tell us what we want to hear.) But in case you do, I've been an editor for quite some time now. I'm not a writer, and don't ever expect to be one. I've edited phenomenal books and authors. I've edited not-so-phenomenal books and authors. I can make a poor book good and a good book great. (I'm also a bit cocky, if you hadn't noticed. Nor am I known for my tact, but I'm sure you'll figure that out soon enough.) I'm not currently involved in the day-to-day operations, but I still have my webbed toes in the pond, and my connections run deep and wide.

Anyway, that's me on a lily pad. I'll be croaking at you soon.

The Not-So-Secret Formula

by Stephanie Black

In Monday’s blog, Jeffrey Savage talked about formulas in genre fiction and asked the following questions:

“Do you expect your genre novels to follow a certain pattern? If they don’t follow that pattern do you like it or hate it? What if the woman and the man don’t end up together at the end of the book, or the bad guy gets away? Or what if the story is written from the perspective of the dead victim? Or the story is told in reverse?

When does it get to the point where you throw the book aside and shout, ‘This isn’t following the rules!’”

This is a fun and intriguing topic, so in today’s blog, I’ll give my opinions. (This is far easier than thinking up my own blog topic—thanks, Jeff!)

My answer is: yes. I expect genre novels to follow a certain pattern, and would get very bothered if they didn't. The point at which I’d want to fling the book at the wall is when it violated the rules of the genre so completely that I felt like I didn’t get what I'd ordered—when, to steal Jeff’s analogy, the steak under that alfredo sauce turned out to be monkey’s brains.

I think Jeff’s steak/alfredo/brain comparison is an apt way to illustrate the issue. You can broil the steak and sprinkle it with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt; you can put a glob of garlic butter on it; you can you douse it in A1 or Heinz 57; you can marinate it in lime juice; you can smother it with carrots and potatoes, wrap it in foil and shove it in a campfire; you can chop it into chunks, skewer it along with eggplant and portabello mushrooms and flame-broil it—but it’s still steak.

You can write a hardboiled, hard-bitten mystery with a protagonist who channels Humphrey Bogart; you can write a cozy mystery complete with recipes for almond-cranberry muffins and monster cinnamon rolls; you can make your detective sweet Miss Marple or sassy “Puzzle Lady” Cora Felton; your detective can be a doctor, a cop, a housewife, a caterer, or a Victorian Egyptologist—but at the end of the mystery, the detective had darn well better solve the mystery or that book will be winging its way toward the wall at high velocity.

Just picture it. It’s the end of Murder on the Orient Express and Hercule Poirot shakes his egg-shaped head and says regretfully, "The criminal is too clever. The little gray cells, they have failed me. I give up." And he walks off the train and into the sunset. Somehow I don't think Agatha Christie would have sold three billion copies of her books if she'd pulled stunts like that. Yes, there's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, her famous twist on the usual mystery story--but the crime still gets solved in the end, right? The reader is left going, "Oh, wow!" not "Oh, brother!"

Is genre fiction too predictable? I don’t think so. You know that in a mystery the detective will solve the crime, or in a romance novel that the boy and girl will end up together, or in a suspense novel that the rogue government agent will thwart the terrorists’ evil plot. But you don’t know how it will happen or who or when or what or with what startling twists and revelations along the way. The freshness of the characters and plot and the uniqueness of the writer's voice make it fun. If you want complete unpredictability, by all means, stay away from genre fiction. But personally, I like to know that in fiction, unlike in real life, things will work out. If I want a mystery where the bad guy gets away, I can read the newspaper.

Not all fiction needs to have a foreordained ending. Literary novelists, for example, are free to do all manner of experimental things and to have their books end triumphantly or miserably or anywhere in between. But if I want to read a literary novel, I’ll pick up a literary novel. If I order steak, I want steak.

Anyway, thanks for the blog topic, Jeff. Tune in next week when I’ll be stealing Sariah’s ideas.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The NeverEnding Story

by Robison E. Wells (the E stands for Leading A Life Of Quiet Desperation)

Yesterday, I drove down to scenic Covenant Communications and returned the final typeset proof of The Counterfeit to my editor. You'd think it's a big milestone, but it isn't. In fact, I can say without the slightest exaggeration, that I've contemplated writing a Hooray-The-Book-Is-Finally-Finished blog for the past four weeks. I keep thinking it's done, and yet it never is.

This week, though, I have high hopes. It can't be postponed any more -- it has to go to print this week to make the scheduled release date. (Of course, it had to go to print May 1st to make the July 1st schedule, too, but we somehow found a loophole to allow us more time.)

Hop aboard the Wayback Machine, and follow me on a journey back to the start of my writing career. It was a sunny spring morning in March of 2003 when I got the call from Covenant's managing editor that they'd accepted On Second Thought (OST) for publication. (The call came moments before I was to take a midterm exam for History 1710, and you can imagine how difficult it was to concentrate on the test.) (Not that I ever studied for it, though, or even went to class regularly.)

So, over the next year I went through the editing process for OST, and I wrote Wake Me When It's Over. Wake Me was accepted by Covenant in December '03, a few months before OST was released. And here's the thing: The Counterfeit is a sequel to Wake Me. In other words, I've been working on this consarned thing for two and a half years. And I'm getting a little tired of it.

A brief timeline, wherein I have made up all the dates, and most of the events:

December 2003: I started work on The Counterfeit. I cannibalized a large part of it from a romantic comedy that I'd previously worked on. (The romantic comedy was about an introverted college kid who is obsessed with Spiderman.) (Why? Who knows.)

March 2004: I finally mapped out the entire plot of the three-book series, and things made a weird kind of sense in my head. The three books each focused on one of three different roommates, and how they fit into the larger story. (Wake Me focused on Eric, Book 2 focused on Baxter, and Book 3 focused on Davis.)

June 2004: I threw out the weird Spiderman stuff, because it was uber-lame, and the book moved much more smoothly from there.

July 2004: I had almost twenty chapters. Awesome chapters, too. Rad to the max chapters.

August 2004: My hard drive crashed, and I wept bitter, bitter tears. I was in the proverbial Gall Of Bitterness, as it were. Had I backed up everything on a disk? Nope. Will I obsessively back everything up in the future? Also nope. Am I lazy to my own destruction? Yep.

September 2004 to December 2004: The long dark teatime of the soul. Depression. Anger. Not wanting to rewrite twenty chapters, and unable to make them as awesome as they were before. Weeping.

January 2005: Wake Me is released to much critical praise and not so much sales. More weeping.

February 2005: Remapped the entire series, and tossed the third book altogether. The second book focuses on the same characters as Wake Me, finishing their story in one book instead of two.

February 2005, part 2: I decide that part of the book will take place in the scenic San Juan Islands of Washington State. We take a family trip to the area, and look around. I sneak into the unoccupied hotel room next to our own and write all night. Things go quite well.

March 2005 to May 2005: The book is written in a whirlwind of typing and tears. It's pretty dang rad.

June 2005: Away it goes to Covenant!

Some undefined period of time, 2005: Things happen.

January 2006: Time to rewrite the entire freaking thing! Six chapters of the book remain relatively untouched, the rest gets the axe. Same characters, new plot.

February 2006: My wife lays in bed at night, watching me sleep, and contemplates smothering me with a pillow. "No one will ever know," thinks she. "He never leaves the house as it is. I could go years and years using the excuse 'He's just in the office, writing.'"

April 2006 to May 2006: Editing and such. Much introspection. Tears. A lot of email correspondence with my editor, wherein we discuss that maybe it would just be easier to pay Kerry Blair to write the book for me.

Yesterday, 2006: I return the typeset to Covenant. I sit in their conference room and hammer out two emergency paragraphs. My editor and I discuss the fact that she hates me. Also, we discuss movies.

Today 2006 through Friday 2006: I keep my fingers crossed, hoping that there will be no more last minute changes. More tears.

Next week, 2006: Devastating fire at the printers. Mysterious computer failures at Covenant and my house. All is for naught.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Road Less Traveled

A friend of mine has written two excellent national romances. Although I am not a great judge of romance writing, she has also received very positive feedback from several published authors and English teachers. The thing about the first two books is that they didn’t fit “the mold.” That is, they didn’t follow the standard romance formula. So on her third book, she followed the formula exactly, and guess what? Lots of interest.

We all talk about separating ourselves from the rest of the books currently on the market, but is that really the way to go? Maybe the road less traveled is less traveled because it leads to a dead end. But if that is the case, then why not just republish all of the old stuff?

Is there wiggle room in the middle? I had dinner the other night in a national upper-scale steak house. They offered a NY Strip with mushrooms and Alfredo sauce on top. Of course I’ve had lots of NY strips, but never one with Alfredo sauce on it. I tried it and I liked it. But what if it had been, say, monkey brains covered with Alfredo sauce? Don’t think I’d have tried that.

I guess what I am asking is, do you expect your genre novels to follow a certain pattern? If they don’t follow that pattern do you like it or hate it? What if the woman and the man don’t end up together at the end of the book, or the bad guy gets away? Or what if the story is written from the perspective of the dead victim? Or the story is told in reverse?

When does it get to the point where you throw the book aside and shout, “This isn’t following the rules!”

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A Tale of Tom

By Sariah S. Wilson

In my post last week, a reader with the screen name Oshee commented that they liked how I was positive and happy even when I was worrying about something. It got me thinking (and perhaps I’m wrong) but that given the response Oshee had to me as a person, I wondered if it would affect whether or not they would pick my book up when it came out.

I am wondering this because lately I’m finding that the personal reaction I have to writers and celebrities does affect whether or not I’ll buy their product.

Take Tom Cruise for example. I never thought much of him one way or the other - although I did think it was pretty terrible the way he left Nicole Kidman to date someone else - but with his recent in-your-face views on Scientology, taking medicine, having a baby that he promptly abandoned to promote his movie, jumping on couches and everything else crazy he’s done the last few months, I can’t bear to watch him. I don’t want to hear his voice, I don’t want to read articles about him. I want him to go away.

So I haven’t seen “Mission Impossible III” and I have no intention to. I know the critics say it’s the best in the trilogy and I love the writer/director JJ Abrams and supporting cast (particularly Keri Russell and Philip Seymour Hoffman), but I can’t take two and a half hours of Tom Cruise. I read in Entertainment Weekly that I’m not alone - this movie has performed way under expectations and in one screening there is a scene where Tom Cruise’s character gets pummeled by the bad guy. They said the audience applauded. When the audience is applauding your hero getting beat down, you have to know something’s not right there.

I’ve voted with my money, and USA Today reported that many others are as well. It says:

In the poll of 1,013 adults conducted over the weekend the film opened in theaters, 35 percent had a favorable opinion of Cruise, while 51 percent had an unfavorable opinion.

That’s a major turnaround from last year when Cruise's previous film, “War of the Worlds,” opened and his poll ratings were 58 percent favorable and 31 percent unfavorable.

The kind of people we are will affect the kind of work we put out. Tom Cruise hid behind a façade of normalcy for many years, but eventually his true self came out and I think he’s probably a little surprised that nobody likes it.

As writers, our true selves are bound to emerge. I spoke to an agent at an RWA conference who said that the kind of person you are will always come through to your reading audience. If you’re a diva with impossible demands, or a flake who can’t meet deadlines, or a jerk who treats your editor like garbage, it will affect your writing career and somehow the readers pick up on it as well. She said it’s why she’s very picky in what clients she takes on because the writing itself is not enough. She has to like the author as a person.

People also have very long memories when they think they’ve been slighted. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is in this industry to always be a consummate professional. You can’t have bad days at a book signing. You can’t yell at your editor because they changed something you loved. You can’t write an agent a letter telling them what a moron they are for not recognizing your obvious genius.

Because if you don’t take this all seriously, no one will take you seriously. Especially the readers.

Friday, May 19, 2006

"Without Them, There Will Be No Other Rights to Guard"

by Kerry Blair

Tomorrow is National Armed Forces Day. It’s that little square on your calendar between Bank Holiday (UK) and Victoria Day (Canada) that you probably haven’t circled. Nobody pays much attention to it unless their loved one wears the uniform of one of those Armed Forces. I’ve circled it. Twice. My oldest son is a new Army medic and my youngest is an Iraq-seasoned Marine. Indulge me then while I tell you why you should care about tomorrow, and care deeply.

In May of 1950, President Harry S. Truman issued a presidential proclamation establishing the holiday and calling for “the celebration of that day in such manner as to honor the Armed Forces of the United States.” It was primarily designed to increase awareness not so much of what the military does, but of who they are—sons, daughters, husbands, wives, parents, siblings—the real people in the helmets and flak vests, submarines, tanks and cockpits.

Half a century later, the holiday is still on our calendars. Few people notice anymore—including those in the military. The New York Times noted in May of 1952: This is the day on which we pay special tribute to all the individuals who are in the service of their country all over the world. It won’t be a matter of parades and receptions for a good many of them. They will all be in the line of duty, and some of them may give their lives in that duty.

Unfortunately, that’s as true today as it was fifty-four years ago. I belong to two online groups of military mothers who try to support our children and each other as best we can. This month—which is barely half over—I have written nine condolence letters to mothers whose sons were killed in Iraq. Nine. The youngest Marine to die between Mother’s Day and Armed Services Day was 19. The oldest was 23. I wish I could say that May has been a rare month, but what is rare is for three or four consecutive days to pass in which I don’t write at least one letter to someone whose child has given his life for our country. Hearts must be very resilient things or mine would have broken into a million pieces by now.

So isn’t it indeed “fitting and proper” as President Dwight D. Eisenhower said “to devote one day each year to paying special tribute to those whose constancy and courage constitute one of the bulwarks guarding the freedom of this nation and the peace of the free world”? As President John F. Kennedy added so succinctly: “Word to the Nation: Guard zealously your right to serve in the Armed Forces, for without them, there will be no other rights to guard.”

I am proud of my sons for their honor, courage and commitment. They know the price they might pay. They enlisted in time of war because they genuinely want to serve their country, preserve our freedom and safety, and become the best men they can be. (Still, I blame my father who was career Navy. The man bled red, white and blue.) Today I pay tribute to my father, my sons, and the thousands of men and women who are like them. I will remember them tomorrow—and always.

If you would like to send a note of encouragement to our troops worldwide, go to You can also (thanks to Marnie Pehrson, web wizard extraordinaire) see a recent picture of my boys on my website. Tomorrow, regardless of your politics, will you fly your flag and say a prayer for our country and for those who devote their often very young lives to defending it? Please?

"These are the times that try men's souls," Thomas Paine said more than two centuries ago. "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."


Personal note to Scott and Matt: I know you hate it when I do this kind of thing, but it’s a free country—thanks to men and women like you. I can post whatever I want!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Calgon, Take Me Away

by Julie Coulter Bellon

We have a piano in our house that has a shiny finish on it, which is not remarkable until you put our kitten in front of it. Then she tries to paw at it, (she's de-clawed) clearly seeing another kitten in the reflection that she'd like to play with, in another room that looks suspiciously like our living room, but well, different. It's quite funny to watch actually, because she really gets into it. It makes me think of Alice in Wonderland and finding the secret "room" and the rabbit who is looking at his watch while running and chanting, "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date. No time to lose, hello, goodbye, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late," right before he jumps into the rabbit hole that leads into Wonderland. That's how I've been feeling lately—a day late and a dollar short for everything, and really wanting to take off to Wonderland. You see, the last two weeks before school lets out are insane. There are programs and field days to attend, concert and award ceremonies, and there's always that one teacher who wants a big project due whether there's two days of school left or not. You know, the one you want to call up and say, "Are you KIDDING me? You want my kid to do what by when? Seriously?"

However, since I'm also a teacher myself over at BYU, I've been getting my fair share of incredulous looks lately. Here's the thing---some students who have procrastinated away their time have suddenly realized that if they don't turn their papers in and have them graded, they won't get a grade for the class and therefore will not be able to graduate. Then comes the fun part. PLEASE, Mrs. Bellon, could you grade my paper by noon today? I absolutely HAVE to have it by then. I couldn't do the work earlier because of my schedule, but I slapped it all together for you, and I just need you to grade my portfolios right away. Is that a problem?

Their pleading eyes, their sob stories, I can't help it, some of them get to me and I cave and grade it as quickly as possible. Others don't move me, however. Like the one who said her favorite show was on TV at the same time she was supposed to do her homework, and she absolutely HAD to find out what happened and thus, didn't get her work done. Sometimes I wish I was the Cheshire Cat (without the smoke) sitting there passing out philosophical advice about not procrastinating and putting pressure on others, or the wisdom of priorities, stuff like that. Or maybe I could just be the Queen of Hearts and shout, "Off with your head!" Wouldn't that be awesome? BYU would probably frown on that though, and there's probably some policy against threatening students with beheading. Or maybe those who don't get to graduate could all come to an "un-graduation party" like the Mad Hatter and the un-birthday party. Now that's something I could get into. The student with the best excuse for not getting their work in on time could blow out the candles on the cake. Maybe I'll turn into the Mad Hatter, complete with googly eyes, just quietly losing my sanity with this sort of thing.

Sigh. I didn't even finish my blog before I got an e-mail from a student asking me to grade her portfolio at my earliest convenience as she is working against a graduation deadline. What do you think? Should I cave in and grade it since she was so nice and polite in her e-mail? Decisions, decisions. Where's that rabbit when you need him? Where's my Calgon?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Fun With Words

by Stephanie Black

When I was a teenager, I used to read the dictionary. Not cover to cover, of course. I liked to flip through the pages, find interesting words and sometimes write them down.

And anyone who is now snickering and muttering things about my teen social life is welcome to bonk himself or herself in the head with an Oxford Unabridged. Words are fun, and you never know when “innocuous” or “effervescent” might come in handy.

If nothing else, a stash of vocabulary words is useful on college admissions and scholarship-type tests, although the only word I distinctly recall from such a test is “hermetic.” In trying to figure out what the word meant, my brain called up not the dictionary, but that scene from Star Wars where the heroes are trapped in the garbage compactor room and Han Solo fires his blaster at the exit hatch, which causes laser energy to rebound all over the room. “I already tried that; it’s hermetically sealed!” an angry Luke hollers. Aha! Now I could pick the definition of hermetic. Another scan-tron bubble conquered. The problem, of course, is that Luke didn’t actually say “hermetically”; he said “magnetically”, but since one definition of “hermetic” is “airtight”, chances are I nailed that question. Woohoo! Whoever thought a screwy memory for dialogue could come in so handy?

But back to the dictionary. A little knowledge can be, as they say, a dangerous thing and my love for words led to a truly terrible phase in my writing development. I’ll call it the Sesquipedalian Phase.

This phase was defined by the motto: “Don’t use a small, clearly understood word if a large, obscure word will do.” Into my scenes, I would slip an occasional word like “deliquesce.” Why be comprehensible when it was so much fun to be snooty? Somehow it didn’t occur to me that most readers don’t like consulting a dictionary when they’re reading a novel, nor are they—outside of a Required Reading list—likely to stick with a writer who thinks words that belong in the board game “Balderdash” make for brilliant prose. After provoking raised eyebrows from my test-reader sister, I managed to mature out of this phase long before I got to the point of submitting anything to a publisher.

I’m sure my editor is grateful for that.

But I still think words are fun. Unfortunately, I’m not good at producing them under pressure. A few Christmases ago, we received a game where the players divide into teams, are assigned two random letters, and then compete to see which team can come up with the longest word beginning with the first designated letter and ending with the second. Say we get the letters E and T. I’ll be fumbling around, coming up with words like “eat”(that don’t even count, because the word has to be at least four letters long), and without breaking a sweat, my engineer-businessman-all-around-genius husband whips out “effervescent.”

It’s so unjust. He’s never even read the dictionary.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Everyone's a Critic

by Robison Wells

Last week I wrote about how being an author requires a certain amount of diplomacy in public. The comments at the end of the blog took on a life of their own, however, and ended up discussing literary reviews of LDS fiction. My comments prompted Jennie Hansen, author and book reviewer for Meridian Magazine, to write an article explaining her reviewing philosophy. Today’s blog will be a closer look at why I wrote what I wrote.

Two things before we begin: First, I realize from the get-go that most of what I’m proposing is hypothetical at best. Jennie wrote in her column yesterday that some of my suggestions were practically impossible, and I certainly don’t disagree. This is all a pipe dream, but it’s an interesting one, so I think it’s worth discussing.

Second, this blog is by no means a rebuttal to Jennie’s article. Jennie and I are good friends – she even asked me to write a book review for Meridian once. I very much respect her ideas, and her work.

Okay. The comment that I made, that caused all the discussion, was that I wish there were more comprehensive and consistent reviews of LDS fiction. I would like to see reviews of all books, both good and bad. While many people have come to review LDS books, there are no sources that could be considered definitive, or even critically adequate. The two that come the closest are (1) Meridian Magazine, and (2) the Association for Mormon Letters, but neither of them are comparable with a literary review. (Again, this is NOT to disparage either of them. I think they do a tremendous job.)

What do I mean by comprehensive? Think of movie reviews. Almost every single movie that is released is reviewed by critics, and their articles are published the day the film appears in theaters. This has two benefits. First, readers can quickly determine whether or not they want to spend their eight dollars on any given movie. Second, by reviewing every movie, not just a few of them, critics give a better impression of what makes them tick.

I read multiple movie reviews every week. There are two websites in particular that I never miss: and After having read their sites every Friday for years, I have a pretty good idea about their likes and dislikes. Aside from knowing simply whether they enjoyed the movie in question, I know their philosophies. And as such, I can see through their rankings and decide for myself whether or not I will enjoy the movie. In other words, I know that Snider is particularly harsh on formula films, and I know that Ebert’s star system often has almost no grounding in his true feelings. But by being familiar with them and their reviewing style, I can decide for myself whether or not I’ll like the movie.

Meridian’s reviews are excellent, but they are decidedly not Meridian’s central focus. They are effectively feature stories, highlighting new and interesting novels. They are well-written and literate, but Meridian simply cannot (and probably doesn’t want to) support a comprehensive online book review. It would take much more manpower than they currently have.

The Association for Mormon Letters is another tremendous source for book reviews, but they have problems of their own. They face the same staffing issues as Meridian, and while I’m sure that AML would embrace the idea of a comprehensive literary review, they aren’t there yet. Their reviews often appear months if not years after a book is released, and, more importantly, their listserv format makes old reviews hard to access. (Jennie’s article yesterday indicated that AML is more favorable to LDS books which are literary or edgy. That doesn’t actually bother me at all. All reviewers have bias. That’s why it’s so important to have a consistent supply of reviews: so that you can determine reviewer’s biases and adjust your interpretations accordingly.)

There are other reviewers out there, though I generally find their reviews less than helpful. Particularly troubling are those reviewers who only give glowing reviews. I have to wonder sometimes, while I’m reading such sites, why they bother to review at all. Wouldn’t it make more sense to merely post a list of recommended books? If all you have to say is how much you loved it, then why would anyone be interested in reading your gushing raves? (Again, this is why Jennie and AML are good – they don’t mind giving positive reviews, but they’re not afraid to mention the aspects that need improvement.)

Another issue that comes up when discussing reviews of LDS books is one of support. Should we, as LDS people, support all LDS arts regardless of our personal tastes, to bolster the growth of the industry? My answer, surprisingly perhaps, is yes and no. I used to criticize LDS cinema quite a bit. There were huge flaws in some of the early movies – even with basic movie-making things like putting the camera in focus. But I’ve come to forgive most of its problems. It’s unexplored territory. Films are being made by people whose only previous storytelling experience is roadshows. Does that make me love their lousy movies? Do I think that The Home Teachers deserves an Oscar based on nothing more than effort and potential? Of course not. But at the same time, I can cut it some slack. These early films are paving the way for future. Someday The Singles Ward might be considered an LDS equivalent of The Birth of a Nation.

But do I think the same about LDS books? Unfortunately, no. LDS fiction is past the honeymoon stage and is a legitimate market. Literary masters have emerged, whose works are every bit as good as what can be found at the national level. And more importantly, these great examples are not random occurrences – they’re becoming more and more reliable. As the LDS fiction market moves from a fragile infancy toward a strong artistic presence, the audience must treat it as such.

LDS authors ought to be leading the way. We are acutely aware of the negative criticism that there is of LDS art. We spend far too much of our time battling these deep-rooted anti-LDS-fiction sentiments. If we insist that our books are on a par with today’s great novels, we should embrace professional critiques.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Fun with SPAM

Okay, so my last post seemed far too sentimental for me. (I think it was allergies.) So I thought I'd throw in a little something I like to call, "Fun with Spam." I have a yahoo e-mail address that I use any time I am asked for an e-mail address I think may be sold or given away. Occasionally (like 1200 times a day) I get e-mails I am pretty sure are SPAM. Most of them go directly to my junk folder. But every once in a while, I like to see how much I can mess with the SPAMer. So I send responses like the following. I'll keep you posted on our conversation.

Hassan (aka Joe) wrote:

I have a new email address!You can now email me at:


Good Day My Beloved, Savage. I am Barrister, hassan ali, a British citizen resident here in London. I am the principle attorney to Late Mr. Lee Savage, A citizen of your County. Who live here in London, he spent all his life here in London but died on an Air Crash on the 31 July 2000 on one of his visitation trip outside London.

I personally contacted you on an urgent propose business deal, I got your contact from the WORLD INFORMATION NETWORK ONLINE (WINO).

I am contacting you to assist in repatriating his money and property left behind before they get confiscated or declared unserviceable by the Bank where this huge deposit was lodged. The said fund is deposited with a bank in Europe. Particularly, the deceased had an Amount at about 16.3 million Euros.

Since after notification of the death of the deceased, the bank has issued me a notice to provide the Relations/ next of kin or have the Funds confiscated within the next 21 days. Since I have been unsuccessful in locating the relatives all this while till now, that is why I am seeking your consent to propose you as the next of kin of the deceased since you bear the same surname, and as a foreigner and have the proceeds of this Amount valued at 16.3 million Euros paid to you as the bonfire approved Next of Kin.

If you agree we can discuss the percentage you will have as compensation on your involvement. All I require is your honesty; co-operation and Sincerity to enable us see this deal through. I guarantee that everything will be executed under a legitimate arrangement that will protect us from any breach of the law, as it is a 100% risk free venture, I will update you with details when I hear from you.


thank you and remain blessed

Best Regards

hassan ali (Esq.)

- Hassan ali

My response:

Hassan (or do you go by Joe?) Esq.,

I can't believe the news about good old Lee. He was such a joker. Remember that time he put the bag of fish and chips inside the exhaust pipe of the double-decker bus? What a riot when it shot over the fence and into the Palace door? Oh, my eyes water just thinking about it.

So, I guess I have a few questions: If he died in 2000, why are you just contacting me now? Is it too late to send flowers?

Should I be concerned that you got my name from WINO? Sounds like a group of old men drinking Thunderbird on the corner and kibitzing about leg wounds.

Isn't the "death of the deceased" a little repetitive? Unless the deceased died a second time. Which actually I just finished writing a novel about. Would you like me to send you a copy of the book when it comes out? You may have heard about Shandra Covington mysteries. (Of course poor Lee never had a chance to read them. Bless his soul.)

What or who is the “bonfire” and how did it approve me? Is it anything like the Goblet of Fire that approved of Harry Potter? (A mutual friend who also happened to spend much of his time in London.)

Also, you seem to have several e-mail addresses. You're not "shady" are you? I'd hate to do business with a shady character.

Lastly, if Lee spent his whole life in London (which is a great city, but can get old after a while.) how was he a citizen of my country? And why was he killed leaving London? It wasn't about that fish and chips stunt I hope?

Let's discuss how we want to split up the loot in our next letter.

Yours in blessed ignorance,

Jeff Savage Steve III

On Moms

Okay, so Mother’s day was yesterday, and once again, I was surprised by how many women actively do not like Mother’s Day. The common complaint seems to be that mothers are placed on an impossibly tall pedestal and most women come home from church feeling like they can never measure up. Especially among writers, moms worry they are spending too much time writing and not enough time cleaning, or cooking, or crafting, or whatever.

These are my thoughts on the subject, as someone who has never been a mom and never will be unless science changes dramatically in the next five years. Nah, not even then.

First of all, who came up with the crazy idea that scriptural mothers were perfect? Take the prodigal son for instance. He takes the money and runs to live a riotous life. Now, I’m sure Mom missed him and hoped he would turn his life around. But in the mean time I’ll bet she converted his bedroom into a very nice sewing room. Then he comes home and just expects to go back to mooching off his parents. Dad says, “Kill the fatted calf, put a ring on his finger, give him a fine cloak.” Who has to search through the couch cushions for another ring? Who has to cook the fatted calf, and clean up the fat? Does Dad think there are clean cloaks just hanging around the closet pressed and ready to wear? Of course Mom welcomed him back, but a little notice would have been nice.

Then there are the stripling warriors. Yes their mothers taught them faith. But does that mean their moms were perfect? How do you think these young men got so good at sword fighting when their parents had buried all the weapons? The kids were running around the house smacking each other with tree branches and butter knives all day, while mom was working on a particular plot twist. And they hadn’t even cleaned under their finger nails or scrubbed behind their ears when they showed up at Helaman’s house.

And who can anyone really blame Nephi’s mother for complaining when Dad sent the boys back to Jerusalem? Fathers always think their boys need to be toughened up. But sometimes moms just want their babies to be safe. She loved her boys and she was worried about them. Why couldn’t Lehi have sent a courier?

As a son, I can tell all you Moms that your children will not remember whether the toilets were always clean or whether you wore make-up to the grocery store. They won’t remember whether you served two helping of vegetables with every meal or dusted the top of the book shelf. They won’t care if you didn’t make holiday doilies at Enrichment Night or whether or not you could toll paint or arrange dried flowers.

What they will remember is how much you told them you loved them. How many times you kissed them in front of their friends (embarrassing the crap out of them but secretly pleasing them anyway.) They will remember the times you listened when they got turned down by the girl they asked to the prom. They will remember the time you tried to play baseball with them and accidentally broke the sliding glass door. They will remember how you sat on the side of their bed at the end of a really lousy day for them and just listened.
And most of all they will remember if you were happy. Because when Mom is happy, home is a happy place to be. So to paraphrase the song little, stop worrying about not being the perfect mom and be a happy mom.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Say Cheese

By Sariah S. Wilson

I completely hate having my picture taken. Loathe it. Instead of fire and brimstone, my torment would be people continually taking my picture and then publishing it for all of the underworld to see and mock.

When I look at a picture of myself all I can see are the flaws and all the things wrong with how goofy I look. It makes it worse when you have an extremely photogenic husband and children. Family portraits feel like “one of these things is not like the other.”

Celebrities have these issues too - even the perfect looking ones. Tyra Banks, supermodel and entrepreneur extraordinaire, talked on one of her shows about her imperfections that bothered her. She said she had cellulite all over the back of her legs and as a result, she never wears anything that would show it. I saw her on a runway and although she was modeling something from Victoria’s Secret, she did indeed have a gauzy cape sort of thing on that covered the back of her legs.

Jaclyn Smith, an original Charlie’s Angel and easily one of the most beautiful women alive, was asked once if she had things about her appearance that bothered her. She replied that of course she did, but that she would never tell anyone what they were because from then on people would only focus on the negative. They would no longer see Jaclyn Smith, they would only see her imperfections.

Jaclyn Smith is right. Taking Tyra Banks as an example - every time I see her now my eyes immediately shoot to her legs, perhaps in solacing myself that even the beautiful people have worries about flaws.

I just finished up my line edits for my first book and my editor pointed out things that I was doing that I wasn’t even aware of. They became glaringly obvious to me as I read through my manuscript again and all I could do was focus on them.

I considered coming onto the blog and talking about my particular quirks in writing and how I had to eliminate them to make my story stronger. But then I realized that if I pointed out the imperfections that it would be all the reader could see. They’d be focused on the mechanics of writing instead of enjoying the story.

So if you want to find out for yourself what I do when I write (I left some of them in), you’re going to have to buy the book, but only if you promise not to mock my author picture.

P.S. - A very Happy Birthday to my son Kaleb, he’s seven years old today!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Sands of Time

by Kerry Blair

What have you been doing for the last quarter century?

You wouldn’t believe how often I’m asked that. I think it’s because, unlike the youngsters here in the bog, I didn’t publish my first novel until I was forty. People are curious what I was doing all those years I wasn’t writing fiction. Since it’s almost Mother’s Day, I’ll confess. I have been writing. Besides eight novels, I’ve written two roadshows, four stake productions, a few dozen PE excuses, almost a hundred Teacher Appreciation Day notes, more than my share of Cub Scout and Girls Camp skits, two reams of journal entries and five blogs – counting this one. I have ghost written for Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the ghost of a gerbil that I claimed “ran away for an exciting new life in the city.” (There was a cat in our home that knew otherwise.) I have also collaborated on dozens of Primary talks and more late-night school reports than I really should have.

Of course my adult life has not been all literary achievement. After all, I’ve shared a home with one husband, four children, two parents, eight dogs, five cats, seven rabbits, one cockatiel, four parakeets, a box turtle, a swimming turtle, two hermit crabs, five hamsters, nine gerbils (they’re prolific little critters), four ducks, ten chickens and pet fish, frogs, finches and bugs too numerous to mention. (I fear that if it is true that we receive our “beloved” pets back in the eternities, the only family we will be fit to live next door to will be the Noahs.) But my point – and I do have one – is that along with all these people and animals I have loved have come certain domestic necessities. I have compiled a partial list:

When I wasn’t writing I was changing diapers (about 14,600) and litter boxes (2,400) or washing 21,000 loads of laundry, preparing 27,325 meals (if one is generous enough to consider pouring milk on Cheerios and/or driving through McDonald’s preparing a meal), and cleaning toilets about 950 times. (Don’t do the math on that last one or you will never enter a bathroom in my home!)

In my spare time I’ve logged enough carpool mileage to have driven to Mars and back. I’ve rooted for the underdogs at pint-sized sporting events that lasted longer than the Summer Olympics, and sat enthralled through three-hour concerts in which one of my kids played the triangle – off key and at the wrong tempo. I’ve served on ten PTA boards at six different schools, chaired enough carnivals to make P.T. Barnum blanch, outsold at school book fairs, and discussed with Kindergarteners the entire holdings of the Metropolitan Art Museum in the Mesa Public School Art Masterpiece program. Of course, it’s not been all work and no play. I wore out two copies of “The Cat in the Hat” when my kids were preschoolers, and later read all seven volumes of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Aloud. Twice. I’ve orchestrated quality time with my family at Disneyland, Sea World, the Grand Canyon, Mesa General Hospital’s emergency room, and the USMC’s Boot Camp Graduation.

In case you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a mother. Not only that, I’m a veteran mother. I’ve survived the terrible twos, the fearsome fourteens, and am now facing the terrifying twenties. Over the years I’ve sent my kids off to preschool, Scout camp, first dates, the senior prom. . .and war in Iraq.

In short (although I know it’s far too late for that) I have spent the last twenty-five years of my life trying – and failing – to be the kind of mother they’ll extol in sacrament meeting this Sunday. No fame. No fortune. Not even enough sleep. But I can live with that. (Or, rather, without that.) One of my favorite writers, the apostle Neal A. Maxwell, said, “When the surf of centuries has made the great pyramids so much sand, the everlasting family will still be standing, because it is a celestial institution, formed outside telestial time.” Thank goodness. There’s never been enough telestial time to accomplish everything I think I should do. (Like write. Or sleep.) Thank you, Elder Maxwell, for the assurance to all us mothers that every late night, every early morning – every single minute – of mothering is the best way we could possibly spend our lives.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last quarter century. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. Almost. This time I’d make sure I had two female gerbils before I left the pet shop…

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Would You Like Fries With That?

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I read two books this week, and after reading Rob's post I think I won't mention their titles because I'm going to say something negative about one of them. The one thing that bothers me in LDS fiction is the proper use of setting. Setting, you ask? Isn't that just describing the background of the scene? Yes and no. When setting is done right, it is seamless, it adds to the book, plot, or character and isn't distracting. When it is done wrong, you want to poke your eyes out with a pencil just so you don't have to read anymore.

For example, in the one novel I read, the author felt it necessary to describe every single, teeny, tiny detail including dust particles in the air, gleaming in the sunlight, the grain of the wood in the table and swirls it made, the cracks in the asphalt as the character walked. It was very distracting, dragged down the story, and made me want to just skim over it. Not something you want your readers to do. In fact, I was very surprised that any publishing company would publish something that was so obviously in need of an editor. However, it could also be a matter of preference. Maybe some people really LIKE to know all the about wood grain and asphalt cracks. I'm just not one of those people. In my mind, details should further the story not drag it down. It's like when you're having a conversation with someone and they're telling you the story, but they get bogged down with, "I think it happened right over near White Avenue, no, wait, maybe it was Poppy Lane. Oh, I know, it was that little side street right off Toony Drive," and you are listening and thinking, it doesn't really matter does it? I want to hear the story. That's how I felt when I was reading the novel, that the author had spent so much time on the details and getting sucked into the setting that the story was completely lost.

The other novel I read used setting to add flavor to the characters and color to the book. The author knew how to strike that fine balance and I found myself identifying with familiar landmarks and easily able to imagine the characters and what was around them. It was in the background, and instead of detracting from the story, it added that extra oomph to make it more real for me as a reader. I loved that! I think that it is an art to find that balance. Whether or not an author nails that balance is really easy to spot in historical fiction. A good author weaves the history in with the characters and makes it part of them and their lives. An inexperienced author lays out all the history in practically a monologue or history lesson, then gets on with the story. How much better is it for the reader to actually live the history through a character's eyes and have it come alive instead of skimming over the "boring" parts to get to the story? That's what I'm talking about. The setting should be a part of the characters and the story, but it's not obvious and overbearing when done right.

Can an author use a setting if they've never actually been there or experienced it for themselves? I think so. In my second book, On the Edge, it's set in Africa and Greece. I'd been to Greece, but I'd never been to Africa. However, I had done an extensive research project on this particular part of Africa and I had learned quite a bit about the people, the culture, and the country. I didn't actually know if it was what I wanted it to be until a reviewer said that the setting was particularly well done and she doesn't give praise lightly. I was also proud of the fact that it was an international book, set somewhere else other than Utah because frankly, in my opinion, the Utah setting is getting extremely overdone. You'd think nothing exciting ever happened outside of Utah. That's part of the charm of one of my favorite authors, Betsy Brannon Green, is that her books are set in Georgia and she uses the setting to add to the unique southern flavor of her characters.

So if you are a reader that LOVES all the extras–you know what I mean, do you want extra fries with that? You could Super-size it for only 49 cents more—then you probably love all the extra details of uniform nametags, how the large fast food ovens work, what hot dogs are really made of, not to mention the gleaming dust particles in the air. If you are that sort of person, I definitely have a book recommendation for you. But in an effort to save my own sanity (and my eyesight) I think I will just say no.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Centerpiece Phobia

by Stephanie Black

Each year, Covenant Communications throws a Murder Mystery Dinner. Authors who released a suspense or mystery novel that year are invited to participate. Readers come to meet the authors, enjoy dinner, and try to figure out whodunit. Last year, with my first book on bookstore shelves, I was invited to join the cast of shady characters that made up the suspects. Being a board-certified introvert, I was nervous, but it sounded like fun. And the multi-talented Kerry Blair was writing the mystery—what could be better?

Then Covenant’s publicist casually—and calmly—informed us that each author would be creating a centerpiece for his or her table based on his/her book.

I was horrified.

Decorating is not my specialty. I look at a picture in a magazine or sit in the living room of a friend and there’s a pottery vase containing three wheat stalks and a couch strewn with varicolored cushions and a table displaying a basket of some random small item—rocks, maybe, or lemons—and a scarf draped over the back of a chair and it looks wonderful and I’m completely boggled. How do people do that? How do they get their ideas? How do they know what will look good together? My idea of decorating is as follows: take whatever knick-knacks you already own. Line them up on an empty surface. When you run out of room, find a new empty surface.

Maybe it’s genetic. My sister once used an old automobile tire as a visual aid in Relief Society. I’ll bet that shocked the socks off the lace tablecloth set.

Many years back, I was asked to do an “introduce yourself” centerpiece for a table at an RS luncheon. I was supposed to decorate my table with items that would help the other sisters get to know me. So I did. When I arrived at the luncheon to set up my table, I learned to my horror that apparently everyone else’s interests were defined by Easter lilies and artful, elegant items, or by interesting and unusual collections. I’d just brought, well, stuff. A fiction technique book. A violin concerto. A pacifier. The most artful thing about my table was the little candy bars I’d scattered around. “This is eclectic,” I heard a sister remark as she approached my Easter-lily-free table.

But there are, as the scriptures say, gifts differing and I thought that in writing fiction, I’d found my niche—a niche where decorating skills were not required.


For the Mystery Dinner I was supposed to create not only a centerpiece, but a centerpiece based on my book. Huh? There were definitely no Easter lilies or groovy doorknob collections that played a prominent role in my semi-futuristic thriller.

So I e-mailed Kerry Blair and begged for help. The brilliant and resourceful Kerry promptly gave me a suggestion that I was able to run with. In the end (with some final advice from my mother), I was miraculously able to produce a centerpiece that didn’t leave me mortified. But don’t think I wasn’t nervously eyeballing other authors’ tables, checking for Easter lilies.

In anticipation of any future Mystery Dinners I attend, I’ll make sure that a vase of roses and some of that sparkly confetti stuff play a prominent role in the plot of each of my books.

Or maybe I’ll just hang onto any old tires I find, just in case.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

If you can't say anything nice

by Robison Wells

I have a secret. It's not a very well-kept secret, nor is it all that surprising, but it's a secret nonetheless, and I'm letting you in on it in the hope that we can come to a better understanding of one another. (In other words, I'm building a relationship of trust with you, after which I'll try to sell you something.)

My secret is that I really dislike a lot of stuff. My problem is that I'm not allowed to say it, because I'm an author, and I have to be diplomatic.

I was raised in a family that was very critical of a lot of things, not because we were filled with hate and rage, but because we were all pretentious and full of ourselves. No, I kid my crazy family. We were critical of a lot of things because... I don't know why -- it's just what we were. We'd go to movies and then tear them apart as we left the theater, not because we didn't like them, but because that was the way we appreciated them: we couldn't enjoy a movie fully unless it was discussed in critical detail. (Incidentally, this drives my wife crazy.)

So, when I became a published author, and started blogging and started posting on author forums, I was more than happy to tell everyone how lame the Home Teachers movie was, and how much I hated cheesy Mormon pop music. And I'd blab for a while before someone would pull me aside and say "You know, that's probably not a good idea."

The first occasion of this was on my personal blog. I had written some inflammatory diatribe about how a certain local television reporter had no more journalistic experience than working for the Relief Society monthly newsletter (wherein, I'm sure, she used lots of exclamation points!!!!). This post had been sitting on my website for a few days, amusing the masses, when another author emailed me. He said that his agent (he's national) had advised him against that very thing. It's okay to be honest, but you need to be careful about alienating your readers. And really, if I thought about it, this nauseatingly-sweet reporter was probably liked by some of the same people who read my books. So I ought to knock it off.

The second occasion was on I honestly can't remember what I was talking about, but I imagine it was LDS cinema, because that's what I used to talk about all the time. One of the editors of the site gave me the following advice: "The LDS arts market is really small, and word gets around. It's probably not a good idea to shoot your mouth off."

So, there you go. I've had to learn diplomacy, which stinks. It's a lot more fun to just say "Have you read the latest crap from Stephanie Black? Talk about a stinkfest!!!!1!!!"

Am I saying that LDS authors need to be dishonest? Of course not. Back when I was brand new in the writing world (not the seasoned professional I am now) I was asked to read someone else's novel and offer a backliner quote. So, I read it, and I thought it was the most contrived piece of intellectual plagiarism I'd read in many moons. But I didn't say that. On the contrary, I was just so dang flattered to be asked to give a quote that I made up some phoney baloney praise. I wasn't dishonest exactly -- I just chose my words very carefully (kind of like when your mom tells you to compliment your sister, and you say "Well, you're not as ugly today as you were yesterday"). Suffice it to say that that quote is one of my most regretted acts as an author. Regardless of how carefully I chose my words, I was still endorsing a book that I hated. And when people pick up that book, and they hate it (as I'm sure they will), then they'll see my name on the back and say "That Robison E. Wells sure is a shill."

(Incidentally, I'm not referring to your book Kerry.)

So I guess my point is that if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. And if you can't say anything nice and true, then you probably ought to shut up, too. If not for your own integrity, do it for your book sales.

Although now that I think about it, pretty much only Mormons are going to be reading my books, so I guess I have a free pass to mock any other religion -- they won't be buying the books anyway!

Seriously, Zoroastrians: what's the deal with those guys? Am I right?

Thanks folks, I'll be here all week!!!!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Dream a Little Dream.

Okay, so we all know that making a full time living as a novelist is rarer than making a full time living as a professional baseball player. But does that have to keep us from dreaming? Haven’t you ever fantasized about what you’d do if you could finally make enough from writing to support you and your family full time?

I love the image of Thoreau standing up to his neck in Walden Pond to commune with nature. I love the image of Stephen King heading up to the cabin by the lake to knock out the last few chapters.

So, if you could make enough money to write full time, what are your fantasies?

Here are a few of mine, in no particular order.

1) Write chapters without rushing. Maybe spend an hour or more on a couple of key paragraphs to get them just right. I hate feeling like I am always rushing when I write. I’d like to have the time to paint a verbal masterpiece.

2) I’d like have some little place where I could go for a few days to write. A little cabin by a lake or stream would be perfect. Just to be able to close out everything for a couple of days and focus on the story.

3) Do my own city to city press tour. I’d get a little motor home and have it wrapped to show off the cover of my new book. (A wrap is a removable ad, like what you see on busses sometimes.) Then if my book came out in the fall, I’d drive cross country from Utah to the North starting in September. From the North East, I’d go south to Florida and then take a southern route to California and back home. I’d schedule book signings, radio, libraries, etc. So I’d pull into a KOA. Hit the local city in my towed car, then come back to the camp and invite people to a barbeque. I’d take my family or wife, depending on when it happened.

4) I’d spend more time doing free presentations and writers groups and schools, to give people encouragement.

5) I’d stay up late at night writing chapters and eating things like salami and Ritz crackers when the urge struck.

What are yours?

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Malfunctioning Brain

by Sariah S. Wilson

I started writing up my blog this morning and was writing about the personal issues I have with most Mormon cinema and offering constructive criticism on how the movies could improve, but I kept ending up being too negative and since we're mostly a happy bunch and since I wouldn't want someone doing a blog about how terrible my books are, you'll be happy to know I have refrained.

Unfortunately, that leaves me without a topic for today and a brain that thinks it's still on vacation.

Speaking of which, we had a great time in Disney World. We had a lot of really memorable, very special experiences. In the aquarium in Epcot (Living Seas) they have an interactive exhibit where Crush (the turtle from "Finding Nemo") talks with audience members. It is truly amazing. Crush talked to both of my little boys. Crush asked if anyone had any questions and my 3-year-old raised his hand. Crush asked his name and then asked Kameron what his question was. Kameron said, "Uh, I don't know." Crush asked Kameron if he was related to Dory (which is only funny if you've seen Nemo).

In the Magic Kingdom a few days later, Kaleb (the 6-year-old) got to pull the sword from the stone, thus making him the king with his proclamation and medal. Later that night Kaleb told me the law he wanted to pass was that everyone would have as much fun as he was having.

As I mentioned earlier, it's always been my dream to go to Disney World and the reality was even better than I could have imagined, especially with getting the opportunity to experience it through my sons' eyes.

Which should be the point of movies and books alike - the chance to experience the world through someone else's perspective with characters you can relate to - having the ability to imagine that you're the one in Narnia or Jurassic Park or Hogwarts.

And on a totally unrelated note, I have discovered a new blog thanks to Miss Snark:

Read it. Learn it. Use it. Or else just enjoy EE's wit.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Six Hundred Words or One Picture?

by Kerry Blair

They say one picture is worth a thousand words. I don’t believe it. Come to think of it, “they” say a lot of things I don’t believe, but I’m particularly skeptical about that picture thing.

Case in point: We returned from San Antonio this week with a fistful of postcards. I showed one to a friend. He was unimpressed by my photo of a rundown old building. I turned it over so he could read the paragraph on the back. There he learned that within that 300-year-old mission a small, courageous band of volunteers sacrificed their lives for their country. “Oh,” he said after reading about one-tenth of a thousand words. “Wow.” Wow, indeed. A photographer had taken a stunning picture, but it took a writer to tell my friend that his house is in Arizona today instead of Mexico because of what happened at the Alamo.

(Speaking of Mexico, Feliz Cinco de Mayo! I hate to tell you this, but those pictures you see on the Internet of sombrero-clad chihuahuas aren’t telling you much about the Battle of Puebla. But if you’re craving authentic Mexican – or at least the best black bean salsa in the universe – you’ve come to the right place. Drop me a note and I’ll send you my recipe.)

To return to my thesis, I’ve been thinking about writers since our trip. The big hype at Sea World San Antonio is a new and improved Shamu extravaganza called “Believe!” I was excited to see it. I’ve been a Shamu fan ever since I was toddling around San Diego clutching a stuffed killer whale in my chubby little arms. Believe me, I was the first one in the stadium for their newest show.

Spoiler Alert! Sea World hasn’t trained orcas to do anything their ancestors weren’t doing when they jumped over the deck of Noah’s ark. Shamu still jumps, still swims with people, still ingests vast quantities of fish, and still soaks everyone within fifty feet of his giant dorsal. Yet this year was different for me. This year I marveled at the creatures’ intelligence and cried at the awesomeness of it all. I wasn’t moved because the “new” show was something I hadn’t seen a dozen times before. I was moved by the recorded narration that accompanied it. Some writer somewhere knew what an orca is and what it can do. From that knowledge (s)he wove a dazzling web of words that captivated my heart and mind. I’m an old Shamu fan from way back, but I came to love and appreciate him more after forty minutes than I had in the previous forty years. “Believe!” was everything Sea World claimed it was – but only because an anonymous writer had spun a thousand incredible words that made it so.

Unfortunately, “anonymous” seems to be the keyword. At Sea World we appaulded animals and trainers, but not the people who wrote the scripts that pulled the stunts together and made us laugh and cry. Everywhere we went postcards were displayed with the pictures facing outward. While I carefully read every historical plaque we passed in San Antonio, I never found out who wrote them so succinctly. (Talk about talent!) I read brochures and the back of postcards, too, and wondered why photographers (and orcas) always get credit, but writers never do. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Shamu. He’s very talented for a whale. And some of my best friends are photographers. But I wrote this blog to thank writers – whoever and wherever you are. It is you wordsmiths who keep our past alive and so eloquently explain our present. You are my heroes. It is your thousands of words that most enrich my experience and bless my life.

On the other hand – anybody want to see a picture of me and Shamu?

In The News

I'm back from my trip - we had a great time and I think my feet will hurt until 2007 and I think Disney should just put big barrels by the entrance gate of the parks for people to leave their purses and wallets in because Disney is going to take all of your money anyways and at least that way we'd skip the middleman - and I opened my morning paper and found this article inside:

If you click on the picture gallery on the top right, I'm the last one listed. I think you'll have to check it out today because tomorrow there will probably be a new article up.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Orson Wells, Kiefer Sutherland and the Philosophies of Men

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I was watching an interview with Kiefer Sutherland recently (he's the star of the television series 24, currently starring in the movie The Sentinel with Michael Douglas, and he's a fellow Canadian!) and he said some things that were quite profound and really struck me at how similar we are. (Not really, he's a millionaire and some Hollywood eye candy with a velvet voice, but hey, you know what I mean. Someone did tell me that my books remind them of the show 24.)

Okay, back to the profound things he said. I usually don't expect profound things out of an actor's mouth, but he quoted Orson Wells when he said, "A film is never finished, it's just abandoned." Well, for some films, you're grateful that they're abandoned because they're excruciating to watch, but you could really say the same thing about books. Are they ever really finished for the author? When I finish one of my manuscripts, I love doing the revisions to it. It's fun to go back and flesh out characters, make motives more clear, beef up the setting, it just gets the adrenaline flowing for me. But I need to have that publisher's deadline so I know when to stop. That's the hard part. Knowing when to abandon it, to call it good, and go on. Rachel Nunes recently put the first chapter of the book I'm currently working on, on her website and even now I'm still thinking of possible revisions, but it's there, and I let it go and I'm proud of myself. If you want to see it, you can at

The next not-so-profound thing Kiefer said that stuck with me was when he was describing how his character was supposed to vomit on the television show, and the fake vomit was actually warm cream of mushroom soup and he had to do the take several times in 120 degree Los Angeles heat. (Ick! I hope none of you were eating while reading this. Sorry!) Not that I have any experience with pretending to throw up soup time and again (I have some morning sickness stories, though, that would make even the hardiest of men turn green, but I'll spare you), but that's exactly how I feel about some scenes in my books. Here I am trying to get the story inside my head out of me and type the words out onto the computer screen, but all that's coming out is equivalent to vomit. I am forced to revise it over and over again, have editors, friends, and perfect strangers critique it so I can do it again and again until it's right, whether or not it's distasteful, a really stifling day or I just want to stop. After the process is over, then, finally, mercy shines upon me and it is declared a perfect scene–the publisher loves it, the readers love it, and there is no more Cream of Mushroom soup anywhere to be found, much to the chagrin of the soup company. (Wouldn't Chicken Noodle be more realistic?)

Kiefer then said he doesn't re-watch his work because he always sees a different angle or a different way he could have played it, but that's what he was feeling in the moment and that's what's there. Same thing with me and my books. I haven't read my first two books in a really long time, not only because I was sick of looking at the manuscript by the time it had finally gone through the publishing process, but that's what I felt at the time, that's the work that was there, and that's the final product. Plus I know I'll make myself crazy if I read them again and see where I could have played it different, been better, whatever. As writers, I believe every book, every manuscript, makes us better writers generally, because we learn more about our craft and how to do it better.

Finally Kiefer talked about the people he worked with and how much he enjoyed the friendship not only of the other actors, but also the director, sound guys, extras, you get the picture. Eva Longoria, Michael Douglas, and Kiefer went to some special Secret Service training for the movie, The Sentinel, and Eva outshot all of them and ended up in the top 5%, shocking both Kiefer and Michael because she is a very small person and you wouldn't expect that out of her. So the moral of the story is, don't judge a person by their outside, Eva Longoria would be a good sniper, and when you're doing something you love, surrounded by people who also love it, life is good. The editors, publishers, marketers, everyone who helped get my book perfected and on the shelves make my life better, stretch me as a person, and help me learn to do it better. (You guys know who you are, thank-you!)

So there you have it. Actors and writers are similar creatures and Kiefer Sutherland and I have a lot more in common than I thought! (If I named a character in my book Kiefer, would anyone think less of me?) Well, I'm going to take the advice of Orson Wells and abandon this blog now. Maybe I'll go have some soup for lunch!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Lessons from the Hoopskirt Brigade

by Stephanie Black

The movie Gone With the Wind is a great classic, a masterpiece, and a host of other good things, or so I hear. I’ve seen it, mind you, but it doesn’t stand out in my mind as particularly thrilling because I can’t help comparing it to the book.

Gone With the Wind is one of my all-time favorite books. I’m firmly of the opinion that if you’ve only seen the movie, you haven’t even begun to enjoy GWTW. You’ve sat down to Christmas dinner, but you've bypassed the prime rib and just nibbled on the olives and carrot sticks.

It’s rare indeed for a movie to approach the power of a book, and I think there are a number of reasons for that. When a book gets translated into a screenplay, a good chunk of the story, by necessity, gets cut out (for example, Scarlett has three children in the book, but only one in the movie. And there’s no mild-mannered Will Benteen helping out during the desperate days at Tara). Characters don’t necessarily match your idea of them (Melanie in the movie is not frail and petite like in the book). Some scenes don’t play out like you pictured them (The last scene in the movie bugs me. In the book, the emotional tone of the scene is that Rhett simply doesn’t care anymore. He’s indifferent and polite. As he puts it, his “deathless love” for Scarlett has worn out. In the movie, it looks more like he’s marching out in a huff. A huff implies anger, implies passion, implies that the situation matters to him. That’s so wrong.)

I think there are two things that a movie can’t capture in the same degree that a book can: the power of imagination and the power of language.

As a writer, I confess to operating with the mindset that I’m putting a world down on paper that will then appear in the reader’s imagination exactly as I pictured it--like writing involves a wholesale telepathic transfer of images. But it’s not that way. Words evoke associations and impressions. Each reader will have his or her own idea of what the characters and setting look like. I once asked my sister to describe some of my characters, and her answers were fascinating. A character that I’d given short, curly blond hair now had long light-brown hair in my sister’s mind. She’d associated the character with a girl she’d known and brought that girl’s image to mind, reading right past any details that said otherwise. And the beauty of it is that our differing pictures of the characters don't matter. As long as the story people engage our interest and empathy—feel real to us--who cares how their hair looks? Imagination is what brings the story to life, both for the writer and the reader, and we don't imagine things exactly the same way.

In a movie, there’s no room for private interpretation. The characters look how they look, right there on the screen, and though we may react differently, we all see the same thing. Fun, yes, powerful, yes, but movies don’t demand the exercise of our imagination to the same degree that a book does.

Another thing a movie can never capture, no matter what the beauty of the cinematography, is the joy that comes from the language of a book. I very rarely read novels cover to cover more than once. I read GWTW when I was a kid, and I don’t think I’ve read it all the way through since then. But I tend to wear out copies of the book—big fat paperbacks can disintegrate when they get opened countless times. I like to dip into the book at random spots, enjoying scenes, passages, snippets of Margaret Mitchell’s writing. Mitchell is a master of characterization and description. She creates the kind of characters that make you want to talk about them and analyze them and admire them and bemoan their bad choices like they're real people. It's not just what happens in the book--it's how Mitchell describes it that makes the book so powerful.

So as a writer, I struggle in my own work as I seek after vivid words that will evoke the power of imagination. I'm not yet where I want to be, but hey, as Scarlett O’Hara would phrase it, “Tomorrow is another day.”

And just so you know my hypocrisy, I’ll confess that I’ve never read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but wow, the movies were great . . .

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What you are about to see is a lie, but it's short.

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

So, I posted a couple links yesterday. I posted the same simultaneously links in about a dozen blogs and forums, and got a mixed response: some people thought it was just about as awesomely amazing an idea as they'd ever seen. For example, two people on LatterDayAuthors said:

"WOW! If I knew how to make an entire site just to say WOW, I would! You deserve it! SUPER!"
"Wow, Rob. I'm speechless. This is stellar."
On the other hand, I got this response from someone on The Official Timewaster's Guide:
"Wow, all this build up for that? Lame."

Rather than believe that the third reviewer had any idea what they were talking about, I'm going to assume that they just don't get it. (This is how I deal with criticism: self-delusion.)

So, let me elaborate what's going on with those links.

The first site, Trial Of The Century, is a collaborative blog written by the four main characters of Wake Me When It's Over, my second novel. This blog is essentially a serialized novella, to be updated several times a week for the next two months. All the characters have been cast and photographed -- it's really a whole new type of writing. (Sure, maybe long-term fictional LDS blogs have been done before, but I'm not aware of any -- that makes it revolutionary, in my self-deluding mind at least.)

The second link, The Unknown Patriot, is a conspiracy theory website, where a government-fearing anti-New-World-Order conspiracy buff writes about his wacko ideas. Yesterday, he received an email from a member of a secret organization -- kind of a Deep Throat type character. The short version: every week, starting tomorrow, he's going to post puzzley clues to the website. Solving the puzzle will explain how to get the next piece of evidence. (And the coolest part: this evidence is in the real world -- we're talking a multi-state treasure hunt here.) (And did I mention there are prizes? There are.)

So, it's really very cool stuff. And more importantly, it's something different. At best, it could get a huge following, increase my fan base, and sell a lot of books. At worst, I've still written an entirely new kind of LDS fiction.

However, right now things are looking great. The first clue shows up tomorrow, and it's pretty cool. Go and solve.