Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire . . .

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Now, I'm not one to call people liars, but I was lied to this past week and I'm still upset about it.

My husband and I took our family on a camping/fishing trip last weekend. We spent the day getting ready, packing, checking weather reports, and changing the oil in the car. I was a little worried because the weather man said there would be rain, but his exact words were, "We need a really good soaking, and this will only be a sprinkle." I can handle a sprinkle, I thought, and we packed our tent and all our kids and headed to the mountains. When we got up there, my husband's family was waiting and we had a good time visiting, eating tin foil dinners, then making s'mores, and eating dutch oven cobbler. We set up our tent and settled the kids down for the night.

I fell asleep fast, but was awakened at 1:45 a.m. with the pitter patter of rainfall on the tent. Oh, the sprinkle is here, I thought. This is where the lie comes in. It didn't stay a pitter patter for very long, and soon it was a sheeting, drenching rain. After about half an hour with no indication that it was going to let up, I was curled in a fetal position in my sleeping bag thinking about my extreme dislike of the deceitful, weasly, weather man at that moment. (We don't say "hate" at our house, hence the extreme dislike.) So there I am, in my sleeping bag, "extremely disliking" the weatherman and all his lies, when I started to feel a movement above my head, a drip, drip, drip, type of movement. I quickly realized the tent was leaking and I was being rained on inside the tent. At that same moment I heard a groan from my husband who was sleeping next to our youngest son, and he got up and turned the flashlight on. He was literally sleeping in a large puddle of water and as he raised the flashlight to the ceiling we noticed a large swollen bulge of water directly over our heads, making gurgling noises as if it couldn't wait to burst in through the ceiling on us. The walls of the tent had turned to waterfalls, the floor was in puddles and the roof was about to cave in from the weight of the water. So much for a sprinkle!

My husband reached for his boots so he could go outside and empty that bubble of water off the roof, and as he shoved his foot into one boot, it made a horrible squishy sound. It was soaking wet. He reached for his jacket, and it was wet, too. Everything was wet, including all of our luggage, which at this point was practically floating by us on the tent river we had going on. So there is my husband, in a wet coat and wet boots, walking through our wet tent to get the giant amount of rain off the leaky tent roof. When he came back in, and got back into his sleeping bag he muttered, "Didn't you hear the weather man say it would be a sprinkle?" Oh, yes, I remembered. The dishonesty of his words rang through my mind. "We need a really good soaking, and this will only be a sprinkle." A sprinkle! Before I could tell him my plan to write a scathing letter to the network, or at least track the weatherman down and throw water balloons at his house, it started to hail— big, marble-size balls of hail. I couldn't help it, I started to laugh. At this point all the children were awake because the hail was hitting us like gunfire. (My youngest was thrilled because he thought it was popcorn from the sky!) Then, as we all shifted around to huddle in the middle of the tent where it seemed somewhat protected from the waterfalls on the walls, we were listening to the hail and wringing out our pillows, when the cot I was sleeping on suddenly collapsed. As I sat there on my wet, broken cot in a hailstorm, the situation just overwhelmed me in how ridiculous it was and I started laughing so hard I could barely breathe with tears streaming down my cheeks. My kids kept saying, "Is Mom all right?" But seriously, talk about Murphy's Law!

So we lay there in the wet and the dark, snuggled with our children trying to think of the silver lining, something positive we could say about the situation. The funniest one was when one of the older boys said with a serious voice, "at least this isn't a winter camp," and we all burst into laughter again.

So the moral of the story is to never trust the weatherman—he will lie to you. Or else his definition of a sprinkle is different than mine. When we got home we laid out our wet tent, wet tarps, wet clothes, wet sleeping bags, and our entire lawn was covered with wet camping stuff. My husband turned to me and said, "We should just put out a sign that says, For Sale—Good Weather Tent." And I heartily agreed.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

More Thoughts on Timing, or Wisdom from the Well(s)

by Stephanie Black

I hate to admit this, because heaven knows Rob’s ego is big enough already, but his blog yesterday made an excellent point. Getting a book published involves an element of good timing over which the author has very little control. In Rob’s case, his timing was perfect. He submitted a humor manuscript right at the time when Covenant was on the hunt for a humor author. Did he time his submission this way on purpose? My friends, we’re talking about a man who thinks a pith helmet at a dressy dinner makes a splendid fashion statement. Rob himself calls his initial publishing success dumb luck.

But as is usually the case, Rob is only partly right, as was pointed out to him by astute posters in the comment trail. Yes, the timing was beyond his control and worked in his favor, but he also wrote and submitted an excellent manuscript. If his manuscript had been lousy, no amount of good timing would have delivered it from No Thanksville. Getting a manuscript accepted involves both things you can control (for instance, the quality of your manuscript) and things you can’t (the publisher's needs at the moment).

Wouldn’t it be nice if all we needed to ensure publication was a good book? It sounds logical, right? If the book is good enough, why wouldn’t publishers be tripping over themselves in their eagerness to snatch it up?

Because publishing is a business. A for-profit business. And publishers need not just good books, but marketable books—books that will cause a large number of readers to spend wads of cash in a large number of bookstores. I’ve learned that publishers regularly have to reject books that they love. They don’t like doing it. But if they bought books purely on the basis of personal passion for a work--with no regard to what the market was doing--they’d go out of business.

Of course, you should do your homework and see what types of books are doing well in your market of choice. But by the time you get your book to the publisher, the market may have shifted, or the publisher may already have too many books similar to yours and be looking for something different . . . but not too different, if that's too much of a risk, but just different enough to be the same, yet unique. Trying to follow the market is like trying to dress a two-year-old. You’re buttoning her dress while she’s yanking off her shoes. You get the shoes on and she pulls her arm out of the sleeve and sticks it out the head opening. Neither toddlers nor publishing are activities suitable for the faint of heart.

But if you're good enough and persistent enough, one of these days, that excellent manuscript of yours will hit a publisher's inbox at just the right moment and voila--you book will be on bookstore shelves, right next to the collected works of Jed Clampett Wells.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Black Gold, Texas Tea

I like to view myself as the Jed Clampett of the LDS Publishing world. Here was a man who knew nothing about the oil business, never intended to get into the oil business, and didn't really know what to do once he got into the oil business.

One day, about four years ago, I was shootin' at some food, and up through the ground came a'bubblin' contract. (I can imagine that, conceivably, this story could come across as arrogant--"ooh, look at me! I published without even trying!" Please don't take it that way. I'm as amazingly bodacious at writing as Jed Clampett is at divining oil. It's luck, pure and simple. I'm merely telling this story because it's interesting, and, well, I don't have anything else to write about today.)

I've discussed before how I got into writing: I hated English class in high school, my brother always loved it, one day I told him I had an idea for a book, he told me to write it, the end. But here's the story of how I got published.

I'd been attending my brother's writing group for about a year. They were all working on fantasy novels, and at the time, so was I. It was this really stupendously-awesome novel about elves and dwarves, but (and here's the money-maker!) it had World War Two technology. So, in other words, it was a story about World War Two, except the Nazis were elves, and there were some goblins in South America. This book was lame. Seriously, it took lameness to the city limits of Lameopolis, driving in a lameosine. When it reached to the county line, it vomited all over the pavement.

The reason? Because I knew a lot about World War Two, and knew just about nothing about fantasy. Interesting sidenote: Brandon Sanderson was in this group (the same Brandon Sanderson who now publishes with Tor and Scholastic, and employs three burly men solely to carry his paychecks from the mailbox to the front door). When I was first invited to the writing group, I asked my brother what to expect. He said "they'll want to know about the world you've created. They'll want to know some of the backstory. Brandon will want to know how the magic system works." And I thought: "How the magic works? Doesn't the wizard just wave his hand, and stuff catches on fire?" Because, my friends, my knowledge of fantasy consisted entirely of Lord of the Rings and the occasional episode of Xena: Warrior Princess.

So, eventually a major point-of-view character in my book sat down on a rock and shot himself in the head (seriously!) because I had no idea what to do with him anymore and wanted to end his part of the story. Shortly thereafter, I stopped attending the writing group.

I decided to take the advice of "write what you know". It's cliché advice, yes, but at that time I was swimming in ignorance, and wouldn't know a literary cliché from onomatopoeia.

So, I wrote On Second Thought. It took a long time, as I slowly figured out how to write. Despite producing a 85,000 words of lameous lame (to the max), my writing group had really taught me a lot. It was very easy for them to teach me about common writing mistakes, as I presented them with so many clear examples. "See this here?" they'd say, highlighting eighty percent of the chapter. "You can't do this."

On Second Thought was, by no means, a masterpiece, but it turned out moderately decent. And, since my writing group had all been rabid to get published, I figured that's what I probably ought to do with my book.

But who to send it to? I hear lots of stories from other authors about their subscriptions to Writer's Market, and their conventioneering, and their networking, and their online chat groups. All of these people research and discuss and, when they get ready to submit, they make very calculated decisions. Here's how I did it: my wife was reading a Jennie Hansen book. I picked it up, looked at the spine, saw Covenant Communications' logo, and said "Works for me!"

Well, that's not entirely all. I knew the book was similar to the stuff Robert Farrell Smith writes, so I ruled out Deseret Book, figuring they wouldn't need two humor writers (who write fish-out-of-water stories about small towns in New Mexico). (Wait a minute...)

But that was it. The extent of my market research. I printed out the book, wrapped it in a couple of rubber bands, and stuffed it in a big envelope. Covenant had a couple questionaires for authors to fill out, and none of the questions really seemed like they applied to me. I tried answering the best I could, but finally turned toward the flippant side. On the question "Can you make any guarantees about this work?", I replied "If you eat five pages of this book every day, and nothing else, I guarantee you will lose weight."

Done. Book in the mail. Three and a half months later I had a contract in hand.

Luck, my friends. Dumb, stupid, idiotic luck. My editor told me, a few years later, that at the time they were looking for a humor author. The timing was perfect. Perfect, and irrationally lucky.

So, here I stare at the screen, trying to end this weekly blog, and I just can't come up with a thing. There's no real conclusion I can come to, seeing as how no amount of advice I give you will help you retrace my steps, other than: be lucky. Perhaps my conclusion should be: timing is everything. Or: publishing is just one big crapshoot.

For now it's time to say goodbye to Rob and all his kin,
and they would like to thank you folks for kindly droppin' in.
You're all invited back next week to this locality,
to have a heapin' helpin' of their hospitality.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Kerry Lynn Blair is an Egomaniac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And

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

And Finally

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


Saturday, August 26, 2006

Ammon and His “Flocks”

By Sariah S. Wilson

I’m not someone who can just jump into a story. I have to think about it for a long time. Probably too long of a time. I play the “what if” game. I get a general premise in my head, and then let the story run from there. I write down things I think might be significant or dialogue that pops up (because any time I try to recreate dialogue, it’s never, ever as good as it was the first time I thought of it).

The next story I’ve been mulling over in my mind and getting prepared to write is about Ammon. I’ve finally got my story line, my conflicts, the beginning and the end all plotted out. Now I just have to write the thing.

I’ve done quite a bit of research on Nephite/Lamanite culture. I’m interested in everything cultural - how they married, how they farmed, how they created/sold their goods, etc., etc - I think I probably should have majored in anthropology in college instead of history because I find this stuff fascinating. I try to incorporate what I’ve learned into my writing (but hopefully in a way that flows with the story and doesn’t feel abrupt) and to put new things into each new book.

I don’t even mind when I can’t find an answer for a question that comes up while writing - the best part of speculative fiction is the speculative part. Can’t figure out who’s older, Ammon or Aaron? Not a problem. I came up with an explanation for that.

But there is a need to balance people’s perceptions with what might have been. Jo Beverley (a romance author) did this great article in a writing magazine (The Writer? Writer’s Digest? RT Times? I forget) where she talked about how modern sounding words were actually in use in previous time periods. Like the word computer - in the early 19th century it meant an accountant (i.e., one who computes figures/numbers). Or the word car - also in use as it was short for carriage. A young man in Regency England may very well have asked his dad to borrow the car for a Saturday evening, but what would a reader think when coming across that? Technically correct, but a modern-day audience would cry anachronism.

So in balancing perceptions, you have to keep your guesswork along the path that an audience expects. Like Ammon and his flocks.

The typical reader assumes that Ammon protected sheep. I really wonder how this perception began (and on a side note, I think it would be fascinating to trace the emergence of this particular belief) because nowhere in that account does anyone mention sheep. Ammon doesn’t say sheep. The servants don’t. Lamoni doesn’t. Mormon doesn’t. All of them say flocks. I think the assumption probably comes because we think of sheep as being in a flock, and sheep, shepherds and lambs are so often associated with Christ and the gospel.

In my opinion, while there is a remote possibility that it actually was sheep, I tend to think that indigenous animals are being discussed.

Many LDS scholars offer different ideas on what sorts of animals Ammon might have protected. While doing research, I noted something interesting in the study of Central American cultures. Those peoples only domesticated two animals - the dog and the turkey.

Flocks of dogs? Can’t picture it. Flocks of turkeys? Say...aren’t groups of birds usually called flocks? And what happens when you approach a bunch of turkeys? Don’t they typically scatter like crazy when startled? Can you imagine the total chaos that would ensue if a large group of turkeys got spooked?

The Central American turkey was prized not only for its meat (and we all know how yummy that is) but also for its feathers. That’s surprising to us North Americans who have boring looking turkeys. But check out these pictures of the turkeys in Central America:

Turkey 1

Turkey 2

Aren’t their feathers beautiful? Usually only the wealthy (like say, oh, I don't know, maybe a king) could afford to keep turkeys - because they were so prized they were costly.

But…as much fun as I have with the notion of Ammon and his turkeys, I know the idea will never fly with the reader, thus forcing me to find another animal for Ammon to keep safe. A sheep-like animal.

Which means the flocks of dogs are out.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Janette Rallison Reflects on Stephen King

As promised, we’ll try to lure other LDS writers into our Frog blog on the occasional Friday. Today’s guest is Janette Rallison (aka Sierra St. James) who is a best-selling author of a dozen books in both the LDS and national markets. Her latest novel is It’s A Mall World After All, published by Walker Books.

REFLECTING ON STEPHEN KING by Janette Rallison

Several of you, I know, saw the title to this article and thought, “Gee, I didn’t know Stephen King had a reflection.” First of all, it is vampires, not horror novelists, who don’t cast reflections, and second of all, I’m not talking about that kind of reflection anyway. I am talking about reflecting on Stephen King’s writing schedule.

Stephen King writes ten pages a day. Every day. Even his birthday and Christmas. I know this because the lead article in an old issue of Writers Digest is titled “Stephen King, How to Write Ten Pages a Day.” I turned eagerly to the article because I would love to learn some magic secret that would help me write ten pages a day.

As it turned out, there were no magic secrets and no previously unknown methods in the article. The gist of it was: Make writing a priority, then sit down and do it, and don’t get up until it’s done. Which would work well for me if that pesky family of mine would stop demanding that I do things like be a wife and a mother.

Still, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about a certain statement in the article. Stephen King was talking about two kinds of authors. Those who are prolific (he himself has written 35 novels, one of which only took him a week to write), and those who write well, but write fewer than five books in their lifetime. “Which is okay,” King said, “but I always wonder two things about these folks: How long did it take them to write the books they did write, and what did they do the rest of their time? Knit afghans? Organize church bazaars? Deify plums? I’m probably being snotty here, but I’m also, believe me, honestly curious. If God gives you something you can do . . . why wouldn’t you do it?”

On one hand he’s right. If God has given us talent, then we ought to use it, ought to glorify His name with it instead of burying our talent in the sand. But King makes an assumption in his statement that I can’t agree with. He seems to think that writing is a more important way to spend one’s time than anything else. Somehow, knitting afghans or helping with church functions is less valuable than creating stories.

I, like most of us, have spent a lot of time on these so-called “lesser pursuits.” I’ve spent my time wiping noses and making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I’ve helped with girls’ camp and scout functions—and Primary activities where the children made picture frames out of tongue depressors. I’ve never knitted, but I recently crocheted beads onto a dozen pair of socks to send to an orphanage in Siberia. And what’s more, I don’t regret spending my time on any of these ventures.

In this group we are mothers, wives, neighbors, visiting teachers, and all involved in all sorts of school and church work. We may very well fall into Category #2—unprolific writers. That’s okay. We have all eternity to work on our talents. Let’s never feel like our other duties—the daily acts of service we give to others—are less valuable in God’s eyes.

In some cases, being number two is not so bad at all.

For Janette’s Top Ten Reasons to Become a Writer (or not), visit her website at www.janetterallison.com


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Covenant's 3rd Annual Mystery Dinner

by Kerry Blair

I didn't want to "post over" Julie today, but she's told me twice that it's okay, so here's the press release on the upcoming Mystery Dinner. Believe me, if you live in the SLC area (or will be there for Conference) this is one event you won't want to miss! Highlights will include Jeff Savage playing the Catacyclist from The Counterfeit (Rob told me it was typecasting what with Jeff being psycho to start with and all) and Robison Wells in a grass skirt. (Pictures will be on sale after the dinner, but they'll be expensive, so you'd better come take your own!)

Here's the info:

Attention Fiction Readers,

It's that time of year again, it's time for mystery, food, fun, and of course, murder!

Until Death Do We Part, will take place on Friday, September 29th at the Holiday Inn Downtown SLC (999 S. Main Street). There will be a reception from 5 - 6:30 p.m. where you can meet the authors, get your picture taken with "Elvis," and enjoy the wonderful music from the hit new country band Joshua Creek. The mystery dinner will begin at 7 p.m. sharp! Dress to impress (church dress to formal attire) as there will be a "best dressed" contest.

Here's a list of this year's participating authors/artists: (Writer/director) Kerry Blair, "Mummy’s the Word" (Assistant writer/director) Gale Sears, "Until the Dawn"
Anita Stansfield, "Dancing in the Light" Annette Lyon, "At the Journey’s End" Betsy Brannon Green, "Double Cross" Clair Poulson, "Blind Side" C.K. Bailey, "Shattered"
H.B. Moore, "Out of Jerusalem" Jeffrey Savage, "Dead on Arrival" Jennie Hansen, "Wild Card," "Emerald " Jerry Borrowman, "I’ll Be Seeing You" Jeff Hinton and Quint Randle as Joshua Creek K.L. Fogg, "Serpent Tide" Kerri Robinson & Marci Gallacher, "A Banner is Unfurled" Michele Ashman Bell, "Rescue," "Perfect Timing"
Robison Wells, "The Counterfeit" Sonia O’Brien, "Perfect Shot" Tom Roulstone, "Inheritance" Toni Sorenson Brown, "Redemption Road"

Tickets are $24 per person and are on sale now at the following Seagull Book stores:

Redwood Seagull
1720 S. Redwood Rd.
801-972-2429
(Phone orders through this store)

West Jordan Seagull
1625 W. 9000 S.
801-568-0444

Taylorsville Seagull
5720 S. Redwood Rd.
801-969-7747

Bountiful Seagull
40 W. 500 S. #A
801-296-6632

American Fork Seagull
218 W. State Road
801-492-0818

South Towne Seagull
31 W. 10600 S.
801-572-0245

Children ages 8 and older are welcome, but will be charged full price. NO BABIES PLEASE!

Tickets are selling fast (only 150 left!) so get your tickets early and ensure yourself a seat at the hottest event of the year!


Be Prepared!

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I have an announcement to make, but I'm a little nervous to do it. Let me give you some background first.

I have five sons. That means we do a lot of scouting at our house right now since four are currently going through the scout program. However, when my oldest son turned eleven and first entered Boy Scouts, I felt lost. I knew all about the Cub Scouts and Wolf, Bear, and Webelos requirements because I'd been called as a leader of all of those dens before. But Boy Scouts was new to me. After my son's first PowWow, I was struggling to understand exactly what my son and I were supposed to do and no one seemed to be able to help me. I had one mother take me aside and tell me to keep track of everything my son did from now on—every camp, every hike, every service project—and if I did that, she assured me, he would make it to Eagle Scout. As I got myself organized, I learned by trial and error and by doing so, I learned a lot of little tricks of the trade. Several of my friends asked me how I did it, since it seemed to be going so smoothly for me and I showed them. Ever since then, I have thought that there should be a training for parents of eleven-year-old boys who are entering Scouts. Someone should take them aside and tell them what a PowWow is and why it's important to go, why it's important to keep those merit badge cards, and that when they go on a school field trip, sometimes that may count toward a merit badge. When my oldest son earned his Eagle award, I learned even more little fun things, like if you invite the President of the United States to the Eagle Court of Honor, he won't come, but he sent my son a really nice letter of congratulations. With three other boys close behind him, and one more yet to come, I feel like a veteran mother of Scouting.

However, just when you're feeling settled, you find out that there's the Duty to God award. What's the point of that award, you ask? Isn't it enough that they earned their Eagle? On September 28, 2001, The First Presidency sent a letter to priesthood leaders saying, "We desire all young men to strive to earn the Eagle Scout and Duty to God awards. We desire all young women to strive to earn the Young Womanhood Recognition. As youth work on these goals, they will develop skills and attributes that will lead them to the temple and prepare them for a lifetime of service to their families and the Lord." In the September 2006 Ensign, (pg. 32), there is an article by Charles W. Dahlquist II who is the Young Men General President and he said "Both programs become more effective in strengthening young men when leaders and parents understand the programs and can help young men set goals to accomplish both the Eagle Scout award and Duty to God award." But what is really the purpose of achieving these awards? Brother Dahlquist continues, "With the challenges that are bombarding young men today—Satan's attempts to weaken them and lead them astray—there has never been a greater need for the blessings that come through achieving the Duty to God Award. . . .The First Presidency has challenged the young men in the Church: You live in a day of great challenges and opportunities. You have been called to make a difference in the world. As a son of God, with the power of the Aaronic priesthood, you can be a wonderful force for good."

The Duty to God program is set up to be mostly done in the home, with the parents passing off the requirements, but many parents aren't really aware of the program. Did you know that many of the Duty to God requirements are also Scouting requirements that will help him on his path to be an Eagle Scout? They are not competing programs at all, but complementary programs that help boys in every aspect of their development. As I've worked on both the Duty to God and the Eagle Scout requirements with my boys, I have to say I have seen the growth both physically, mentally, but most of all spiritually within them. Their testimonies have grown, service becomes second nature, and they've cultivated habits that will help them when they are husbands and fathers. I am so grateful to have these programs available to us because I've seen the good they've done in my own home with my own children.

So what's the announcement you ask? My new book, "Be Prepared! A Parent's Guide to Boy Scouts and the Duty To God Award—What You Should Know" is about to be released. It's non-fiction obviously, and gives all the hints I've learned over the years. It's a little training session for parents so that we can follow our prophet and become familiar with the programs and help our sons earn these awards that will train them for what's ahead. I am really excited about it, but nervous at the same time since it IS a far cry from my fiction or anything else I've done. I don't know of a lot of people who successfully do both fiction and non-fiction, so I'm feeling a little anxious, but I've felt really strongly about this for some time and I hope it's a success. I want this book to be a guide to parents who want to help their boy, but don't know where to start—what I wish I would have had when I was starting out with my first son.

So, that's my announcement. I've done a non-fiction book and I think it's going to be really awesome. So prepare yourselves!

(If you want a sneak peek at the cover you can go to my website, www.juliecoulterbellon.com It should be up later today.)


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Universal Acclaim . . . Is That Too Much To Ask?

by Stephanie Black

On her blog today, Miss Snark posted this week’s “Marketing Minute” from marketing consultant Marcia Yudkin. Yudkin said the following:

“Robert Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker, which he understandably calls "the best job in the world," once set out to find a cartoon that nearly everyone who had any sense of humor would find funny.

He sent what he thought was his own very best cartoon to 2,000 men and women, asking them to rate it from 1 (completely unfunny) to 10 (extremely funny). About 80% rated Mankoff's cartoon 7 or above, which delighted him. Yet some respondents gave it a 1.

Mankoff threw up his hands, calling this item "the most highly rated cartoon for funniness that I ever did, or (sob) will probably ever do."

His survey has implications for your marketing efforts.

Whatever target market you're aiming at, its members differ from one another, having diverse personalities, varying educational and cultural backgrounds, diverging tastes or lifestyles and disparate values. Therefore, they won't all interpret what you present to them in the same way.

It's foolhardy to aim at universal praise or acceptance. So long as you have enthusiastic advocates, ignore those who think you're incredibly off the mark.”


Miss Snark, with her Snarkly wisdom, adds, “The same goes for novels of course.”

Yudkin’s message reminds me of what Kerry discussed in her blog last week regarding a negative reader review of one of her books (posted alongside half a dozen wonderful reviews, to keep this in perspective). I’ve read this particular book and thought it was absolutely brilliant. Incredibly creative, delightfully written, clever, funny, witty, touching, profound, exciting and a host of other good things. My daughter is currently reading it for, oh, maybe the fourth time. We adore this book. But Mankoff’s experience with his cartoon and Kerry’s with her book illustrate an inescapable fact of life for those of us who put our creative endeavors on the market. No matter what we create or how well we create it, someone out there isn’t going to like it.

This fact makes me quake in my Payless sandals.

I can say breezy things like “I know not everyone is going to like my book and that’s fine.” And on an intellectual level, I might even believe this, but in the secret depths of my writer’s heart, I don’t think it’s fine at all. I think it darn well stinks that some people are not only going to dislike my writing but are going to say so. Can’t I be universally loved?

Nope.

And if I can manage an inkling of objectivity, I’ll realize that I don’t exactly offer the universal love that I want to other books that I read. I’m currently reading a suspense novel by a bestselling author. His books fly off the shelves. Readers love him. I enjoy the suspense he creates, but his writing style makes me want to poke my eyes out with an editorial pencil. Does that mean I’m nuts for disliking his style or that his fans are nuts for liking it? No. We’re just different people with different tastes and what bothers me doesn’t even register on the radar screen for most readers.

Criticism is part of the package when you become a professional writer. I hope someday I’ll be able to take it in stride, but barring a breakthrough in Tristi’s rhino cream, I think I’ll always wince and cringe when I run across someone who doesn't think my books are the bee’s knees. So why do I write if I’m such a wimp?

Because I love writing. And the joy of creating a story, seeing that story in print and hearing back from readers who do love it is worth the risk of a few zings from people who don’t.


Monday, August 21, 2006

Burning down the house

by Robison Wells

At a recent booksigning, I had the following conversation:

Store Manager: Where do you live?
Robison Wells, Acclaimed LDS Author: In scenic West Jordan, just behind the Seagull Book there.
Store Manager: Really? I used to work at that store. But right behind it? Do you mean the neighborhood, or the housing?
Robison Wells: The housing. Although I like to call it an apartment.

Yes, I have a confession to make: I live in an apartment. The reasons are myriad, and the stigma is weighty indeed.

Granted, it's better than "housing". (I've lived in housing twice before, while going to the University of Utah, and with its cinderblock walls, lack of carpet, and insufficient lighting it was like a little taste of East Germany.)

I actually tell people all the time how rad it is to live in our apartment. When a coworker recently got divorced, I did my darnedest to get him into our complex, because it's just great. Good people, etc. But, you know, I'm just so very very ready to be out of there.

Here's why:

For about six months we've had a couple college guys living below us. They've been decent neighbors except for the occassional loud TV. However, about a month ago one of them moved out and the other decided to sub-let the apartment. Since then, it's been quite the mess of crazy shenanigans.

Now, I consider myself to be a fairly easygoing, non-judgemental kind of guy. However, every time I've walked down my sidewalk in the last four weeks I've been fully prepared to get mugged. When we see these people we think: if they can find a way, they're going to burglarize our apartment.

Their two main problems are that (1) they play their music loud all day, and our apartment thumps and we go crazy, and (2) they sit outside and drink and smoke all the stinking time. I've been very polite in the past and gone down and knocked on their door and told them to turn the bass down a bit, and they've politely said they would, and nothing changes. The problem is that they hadn't really broken any of the apartment rules, and consequently we couldn't report them for anything other than looking creepy. Well, my friends, I'm happy to say that has all changed: On Friday, they left a couple cans of beer--open, but still full--out on the stairs. As those stairs are a favorite play area for kids, my wife's ire was raised, and I was just looking for a convenient excuse, so I called the manager.

Cut to the next day: I come wandering back to my apartment after a hearty day of signing books. As I trudge up the stairs, the ringleader comes storming out of the house, demanding to know if I turned him in. Well, I realize that I write LDS books and I'm an honest churchgoer and all that, but this guy is creepy, and has lots of creepy friends, and he looked really mad. So, I lied. (Sorry.) "No, creepy criminal, I don't know who would have done such a thing."

We did, however, discuss the issue. He apologized for playing his music loud, and I apologized for having a four-year-old who jumps around a lot. And then we discussed four hundred other things, because he was completely and totally drunk. One of the things we discussed, actually, was that he'd drunk half a gallon of brandy earlier that day. This man, my friends, was very very drunk.

We talked about life, and work. He asked me what I did for a living and I told him about writing books. I even gave him a copy. He leaned closer to me and, whispering, divulged the secret of the publishing industry: write about sex. I told him I'd take it under advisement.

He invited me to go with him to Brazil, to Carnivale, all-expenses paid. He also told me that he was very sad because he'd just kicked out one of his roommates, and now that roommate was in jail for drug use. He told me that he'd had to cancel a party the night before because apartment management was keeping their eyes on him, and that his girlfriend got alcohol poisoning from drinking Everclear.

But the good news: he told me his lease was expiring on August 30th, and he was moving to New York.

Then he borrowed my phone, and made long distance calls for an hour. (He told me he was trying to arrange a week-long trip to Vegas, and I was more than happy to let him use my phone if it got him out of there for a week.) (But then I couldn't get the phone back, because it's hard to reason with a drunk man.)

So that night I was very pleased with myself for being such a better tenant of the apartment. No loud music and alcohol poisoning here, thank you very much. For dinner I made some homemade french fries and the oil boiled over, and there was a big grease fire, and my wife called 911.

And you know what? When there's a fire at an apartment complex, they automatically send eight trucks, regardless of what you tell them on the phone. So, despite there being no permanent damage to anything, there I was, out in front of the building, explaining to the fire battallion chief how I started the stove on fire.

And all the nieghbors were standing out on their balconies, watching and listening, and thinking: "You and your french fries very nearly burned down my apartment and all my possessions. Crappy neighbors. I really need to move out of this housing."


Learning From Others

by Jeffrey S. Savage

When I went to elementary school, every principal had a paddle in his office. Some were long thin things, some were more like a cutting board, and then there was the infamous Wiffle paddle, which had holes to make it more aerodynamic.

Unfortunately, I had more than a passing acquaintance with these paddles. When my children come to me now and say, “Dad, we got to have lunch with the principal, because we got such good grades,” I nod and reply, “Yes, I often had lunch with the principal as well.”

Now you may not think anything good could come from getting spanked on more than one occasion, but the truth is, I gained some valuable knowledge from these visits.

Take, for example, the day my younger brother came running out to the playground in tears. I asked him what was wrong and he told me that he had to go to the principal.

“Why?” I asked, with some professional curiosity. “What did you do?”

“Well, we were making bunny faces out of paper plates. The teacher put this girl’s bunny up on the board. But she didn’t put mine up. So I tore the girl’s bunny in half.”

I nodded knowingly, and pulled him aside. “When you get to the principal’s office he’s going to take down his paddle.”

He looked up to me with wide, scared eyes.

“Okay here’s what you do. The first time he hits you with the paddle, cry really loud.”

“Okay.”

Trusting my vast experience in this area, he walked the green mile. Ten minutes later he was back at the playground, jumping for joy. “It worked! It worked!”

So, you see, there is a great deal that can be learned from the positive and negative experiences of others. Especially in the writing world, where one or two minor mistakes can completely mess you up.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of my favorite writing sites and you can maybe add a few of yours.


A small LDS publisher’s blog
http://ldspublisher.blogspot.com/

Great publishing tips from a guy who knows the business very well
http://www.jakonrath.com/AgentBooklet.pdf

Some unique insights from an agent. (She hasn’t added anything lately but read the back issues)
http://agentoo7.blogspot.com/

The classic agent blog
http://misssnark.blogspot.com/

A great site by and for LDS authors
http://www.latterdayauthors.com/

Funny and helpful editor site for working on query letters
http://www.evileditor.blogspot.com/

Very helpful and informative blog by my literary agent
http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/

Two of the best sites for checking out agents (both are free)
http://www.agentresearch.com/cgi-bin/agent_verification/dbspace.cgi
http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/

The League of Utah Writers is a great place to meet other authors and learn the craft
http://www.luwrite.com/

And of course you can always check out my site http://www.jeffreysavage.com/
PS A Taste for fear is now nearing the halfway point and going quickly!


Saturday, August 19, 2006

By Any Other Name

By Sariah S. Wilson

Did you ever have that feeling in Sacrament Meeting where you’re giving a talk immediately following this extremely moving musical number and/or a powerful, spiritual speaker? That’s what it feels like to post the day after Kerry. It’s where you know anything you say is going to come across as trite and meaningless in comparison, and there doesn’t even seem a point in trying. Thus, I will start out by saying that I have nothing of spiritual import to post about.

I’d like to talk about titles. Mainly because my second novel (as far as I know) still doesn’t have one.

I’m very glad that I belong to the RWA (Romance Writers of America) because their emphasis is on professionalism and getting you published, and to help you in any way they can. It’s a great organization, especially for those not-yet-published (particularly since many other national writing organizations won’t let you join until you are published).

My local chapter prepared me for the things you would no longer have control over once you were published. Like your title and cover. (You have zero say when you’re starting out. However, if you’re Nora Roberts and decide to put out a series of your random thoughts on napkins with an orange and chartreuse cover called “Things I Think” there isn’t a publisher in this world who would tell you no. They would all bow and scrape and tell you, “Whatever you want.” Unfortunately, very few people ever attain that sort of status in the publishing industry.)

People (and by people I mean my family) were surprised that I had no say in the cover or the title. I wasn’t - I had been told over and over again by my fellow writers that this most likely would happen. When my cover delay occurred, my family couldn’t figure out why I just didn’t have my brother Stephen make the cover so it could come out in July. I kept trying to explain the marketing department and the importance of book design and catching the consumer’s eye, but no one listened.

I did mourn a little over the loss of my first title. I have discovered that I have no natural talent for coming up with titles. Had it been up to me, “Gone With the Wind” probably would have been “Scarlett and Rhett” or “Why Ashley Sucks” or something like that.

But with my first book, I had what I thought was an immensely clever title. I had originally called it “All the King-Men.” It had a play on words, an immediate Book of Mormon connection, and I thought would hint at the political aspects in the novel.

“King-Men” became “Secrets in Zarahemla.” Which is a title that also makes the Book of Mormon connection and plays up the shadows and secrets that are going on in the novel. It also sounds more like a romance, which the book inherently is.

My second novel I just called “Redemption.” Despite thinking about possible titles for months, I still can’t think of anything good (although I am liking Rob’s suggestion of “One Bride for One Brother.” But if I used it I’d probably have to pay him royalties or something). Here’s to hoping my publisher comes up with something brilliant which I can then take credit for. ;)

The next book I’m working on is (surprise!) another Book of Mormon romance. I have a killer title for that one that made my editor laugh (it makes me laugh too which is why I chose it).

But I’m not telling you what it is until I sell it.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Pennies in the Water

by Kerry Blair

A dear friend who recently returned from a mission wrote: While I was in New York we went to a Chinese place and I got a fortune that said, “Travel this year will give you a new perspective on life.” I laughed, but kept the fortune. I really hate that we can’t see the end result of the things we do now. I want to know what perspective I’ve gained. Mom says I’m different, but I feel the same. So what changed? What was the purpose of me going on a mission? Was it for me to change the world or for the world, and God, to change me?

Like Chilly, the talented, inspired young woman who wrote those words, I also wonder. Mostly I wonder about writing. Have I been granted the wondrous opportunity to write and publish because of what I have to give or because it will open windows to what I need to receive? In my case, there’s little doubt it’s that second thing. I get so much. Near the top of the list, I get letters. A lot of letters, mostly from young women. I always answer, sometimes more than once. Sometimes more than a dozen times. I’ve been answering some for so long now that I’ve received wedding invitations and birth announcements from women who were Beehives or Mia Maids when we first started corresponding. It is one of the greatest marvels—and joys—in my life. If these friendships were all I ever gained from writing, I would consider myself richly blessed.

But I get more. Just last week, for instance, I got a moving lesson in humility. One of the many online sites that encourage book reviews had a post from someone who said she was sorry to say it, but This Just In is the worst book ever published in this—or any—market. (Side note: She didn’t sound sorry. She sounded more like she wished she could turn my dog over to those people who like pit bulls about as much as Puritans like witches.) Despite the fact that there were six positive reviews alongside the negative, guess which one I’ve memorized? (Why am I like that? And while we’re on the subject, somebody please tell me I’m not the only one who is!) Anyway, it affected me so much I couldn’t look at the newly-edited book Angela had sent back for my review. Just thinking about publishing another novel made me cringe. I mean, Ghost of a Chance is probably as bad as TJI. It might be worse. Why jeopardize a rainforest - or, in the case of my print runs, a couple of scraggly pine trees - when the world has enough inanity (and to spare) already?

As it turns out, I found the answer to that question in another part of Chilly's letter. She told a story about being on Temple Square with President Monson and a little boy. In her words: I was bemoaning the fact that I have to give a talk in church on Sunday and President Monson said when he was about twelve he had to give a two-minute talk in church and wanted his dad to write it. His dad told him no, he had to do it himself, but to write about something he liked. One thing Pres. Monson likes is birds. So he went downtown to the Seagull Monument on Temple Square. He said he was looking in the water that surrounds the statue and saw lots of coins that people had thrown in to make wishes. He thought to himself that those coins weren’t doing anyone any good and a boy could certainly use them. He then said he didn’t take them. K.J., the little boy with us, volunteered, “Because you didn’t want to destroy anyone’s hopes!” It was so funny! As if taking coins from a pool destroys people’s wishes. Maybe it does. That would be a good lesson -- not to steal from wishing wells/fountains/reflecting pools.

I think my words are like those coins. They really aren’t doing anybody any good, and yet I’ve tossed them out into the world’s reflecting pool with the best of intentions. They’re my way of wishing well to anyone and everyone who happens upon them. With every book I write I wish that good could always triumph over evil. I wish that everyone could live happily ever after. At the very least, I wish we all would laugh more than we cry and get up one more time than we fall down.

I know it’s a lot to wish for. Nevertheless, I have a whole handful of coins left to me and I’m going to keep tossing them into that pool just as long as I can lift my arm. I’ll probably never, as Washington Irving said, contribute a mite to the wisdom and knowledge of the world, but I can live with that. In fact, I can rejoice in it if I let go the pressure to impress and replace it with a deep appreciation for the myriad of blessings I receive. Wherever I look, the tender mercies of God sparkle before me like newly-minted pennies in the water!


Thursday, August 17, 2006

More Than I Needed to Know

by Julie Coulter Bellon

My husband and I were sitting at a dinner table with another couple and we had the fresh garden salad in front of us, with cucumbers in it. Well, one of the dinner guests started talking about how the cucumbers reminded her of when she was first pregnant. Apparently, she had some cucumbers from her garden marinating in vinegar and water. When she ate one, she felt nauseated, and suddenly threw up so hard that cucumber chunks went through her nose and she smelled vinegar for a week. The rest of us were looking down at our now unappetizing salad, and my thought was, "that was waaay too much information."

That's sort of how it is when you're trying to explain what your book is about or even when you're writing the back text for your book. You don't want people to lose interest in your book or look at it in an unappetizing way because you've spilled way too much information. You want to balance that fine line and entice the reader to read your book and then love it so much they'll recommend it to others. No one will recommend a garden salad with cucumbers to someone else when they have the visual picture of cucumber chunks coming out of a woman's nose---unless you're a young boy and find that sort of thing awesome. I still think of the cucumber story every time I see cucumbers in a salad. I wish the woman at the dinner table could have just said that cucumbers reminded her of her morning sickness instead of describing chunks coming out of her nose. It was very memorable, just not in a good way---and you definitely want your book to be memorable in a good way.

A lot of people have been asking me what my new book is about and I've been playing around with different answers and possible back text. (Side note: Some publishing houses ask the author to write the back text and other publishers write it themselves with input from the author.) My newest book is an international romantic suspense novel, set in Iraq and Utah. Now comes the hard part, explaining the basic premise without giving away too much. So this is what I've come up with so far.

Dr. Brandon Shepherd and his colleague, Dr. Rachel Fielding, are Army doctors, who serve in a small outpost along the Syrian border near al-Qaim, Iraq. While trying to rescue a wounded soldier trapped in a firefight, they are kidnapped by terrorists who ask them to do something that no patriotic American would ever want to do. Meanwhile, back in the United States, Brandon's sister Kristen, a professional political campaign manager, has called off her wedding and agreed to head up the campaign for the next Utah governor. However, when Kristen sees her captive brother on television, she uses every political connection she has to win his freedom. Amid danger and intrigue, faith and prayer, this book is an exciting international romance that brings close to home the world we live in today.

So I've tried to bring forward the important details, introduce the main characters and plot, while at the same time making you want to read the rest of the book. It still needs some work, and could possibly use a little more information, but at least there's no cucumber chunks in sight.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

And I Would Have Gotten Away With it Too, If It Hadn't Been For You Meddling Kids

by Stephanie Black

I’m pleased to report that I finished writing the climax of my novel. The forces of good and the forces of evil have tangled, evil has been defeated, and good is recovering. Actually, “finished” is too strong of a word; I’m finished only in the sense that I’m nearly ready to go back and rewrite the whole book. But before I start again from line one (“Call me Ishmael”—catchy, no?) I need to write the wrap-up.

This portion of a book is a tricky balancing act. On the one hand, I want to make sure that the wrap-up answers any remaining questions and gives the reader a clear idea of where the characters are headed. That doesn’t mean that every detail needs to be wrapped up perfectly—life rarely wraps up perfectly, but the ending needs to be satisfying. After reading through several hundred pages of book, the reader deserves satisfaction.

As a side note, this is one reason I’m not a devotee of 24. We watched Season 1 on DVD over the course of a few weeks. And while the show is certainly gripping, it’s too gripping--the nature of the show precludes satisfying endings and consequent release of tension. I watched and I watched and every time something good happened, I knew it was only a matter of time until it went bad again, until—oh joyful day!—we reached episode 24 and I thought here it comes, what I’ve been waiting for through 23 episodes of tension, the resolution, the gratification, the satisfaction. And what did I get? An “If you kill me, you’ll never find out who I’m working for!” and a flip-of-the-coin death of a main character (who had spent the entire season getting out of much more difficult situations). Sheesh. How unsatisfying.

But back to novel wrap-ups. They’re a balancing act. If I don’t provide enough wrap-up, the ending will feel abrupt. That’s frustrating for a reader. If I blather on with too much wrap-up, the book will sputter to a finish. That’s boring. Some books need very little wordage beyond the end of the climax. Others have a chunk of explaining to do, the kind of explanation that couldn’t come earlier or it would ruin the tension of that final clash (like in some of the Harry Potter books, where the wrap-up includes lengthy conversations between Harry and Dumbledore).

With my current novel, I’m still searching for the right balance. There’s not a lot of information that needs to come out in the end—most of that has already been revealed. But more emotional resolution is needed so the reader walks away with a clear idea of where the main character is headed.

Speaking of wrap-ups, I don’t have a good one for this blog, so I’ll just say I’m currently reading The Counterfeit by our own much-maligned Robison E. “E stands for Kick Me” Wells. It’s an awesome novel. You should read it.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

It ain't easy to be me

by Robison Wells

An important thing to remember about me is that I'm both rich and famous.

Tomorrow I'm heading down to the annual convention of the LDS Bookseller's Association. Oh my, what a burden is placed upon me. The curse of celebrity. As though I have time for these social trivialities. I should have people who can go to conventions for me! Bah!

I believe that my purpose for going is to be the eye candy at Covenant's booth. Some lone bookseller will be walking down the densely-packed aisles, dejected after a long day of bookselling, and across the crowd he or she will catch my eye. I'll smile, with those shimmering Colgate-polished teeth of mine, and that bookseller's heart will be warmed. "Come to my booth," my smile seems to beckon. "Come to my booth and view the many fine wares with which you are presented, and converse with an extremely attractive author."

Some authors refuse to go to these events because they're treated like a piece of meat, what with our unbuttoned wide-collared shirts and gold chains. But I say: "If you've got it, flaunt it!"

Sure, it's tiresome being one of the glittering literati, but you roll with the punches.

Or whatever.

Shortly after I became a published author, I was perturbed to discover that no one really cared. Oh sure, I'd mention it and they'd say "wow", and we'd talk a little about the book, and how hard it was to write. But that was about it. So I twisted a scripture and came to a conclusion: An author is never accepted in his own country. I mean, obviously my family knows me too well to be impressed, and my coworkers know me too well to even acknowledge my existence, but the fans -- they're the ones who think I'm the shiznit (as it were).

But, you know, I go to booksignings, and I sit at my table, and even there no one really cares. And the truth is that there are more than 100,000 books released across the country every year. So the fact that I've written one (or two or three) just really ain't that dang rad.

Well, I guess it is neat. But it's no reason to expect instant celebrity status.

Brandon Sanderson, a friend of mine from a writing group way back in the day, has two nationally published fantasy novels -- really, really good fantasy novels. His second, Mistborn, was released last month, and he held a big pre-release party at Waldenbooks. People were lining up hours before he arrived, and he signed a couple hundred books. Contrast that with me: at a particularly good book signing, I might sell between twenty and thirty books -- and that's at a really good signing. And most of those books were impulse-buys, not rabid fans anxious to see me.

My point: being an author means nothing. It's a job title, nothing more. Expecting a fanbase right off the bat is ludicrous. That'd be like opening a business and expecting customers to waltz right in just because you have a sign on the door. No, fans (and customers) are only gathered in two ways: product quality, and marketing.

And, since we all know I can only offer a limited amount of quality, it's time to dig in and do some marketing. So, I'm going to the Bookseller's convention, and I'll shake hands and kiss babies and hand out free stuff.

Fame and fortune, here I come!


Monday, August 14, 2006

Bad News Good News

Funny how what seems like bad news at the time often turns out to be good news. My eighteen year-old daughter and her best friend took an end of summer trip to California. Her friend had never been to the ocean, so they went to Monterey, Santa Cruz, Big Basin, San Francisco, and to visit my sister near Yosemite.

Sunday night, about two hours before they were due to arrive home, I received a call from my daughter, telling me that my car (I loaned them mine instead of having them take my daughter’s car) had broken down in Wendover, NV. So, off my wife and I went to pick them up. Now I have to admit that I wasn’t real thrilled about this for a couple of reasons. #1 I’d have to take a day off work to get the car fixed. #2 Wendover is having its annual Speed Days, where racers come from all over to set land speed records on the salt flats, so every hotel was booked solid. Meaning that while my wife drove the girl home, I got to spend the night in my car, so I could get it fixed in the morning. #3 I’d just finished a nice big Sunday dinner and wanted to relax.

But a funny thing happened while I tossed and turned in the front seat of my car last night. I thought about how fortunate it was that they broke down where they did. When the belts came off the car everything basically went out—power steering, alternator, A/C, etc. Had they broken down 15 miles later or earlier they would not have been able to call us from their cell phones. Had they broken down 5 miles later or earlier they might have had to walk or hitch a ride into town. But the belt broke exactly as they were getting off the freeway (although, they didn’t need gas, weren’t hungry, and were anxious to get home), so my daughter—who is not real big—could muscle the car into a nearby fast food parking lot and wait safely for us.

Of course, on the way to pick them up, the back tire blew out on our van. Bad huh? Except it blew out only a few miles from home, so I could get a spare on and borrow my dad’s car to get them.

Then, on the way back from Wendover this morning, the car overheated. I’d just paid $200 to get the tension pulley fixed, and $180 for new tires for the van. I was imagining huge bills for something like a bad water pump. Only it ended up being a $10 part, and all was good as new.

That’s kind of how I feel about my writing career to date. It’s been a constant case of good news bad news. You’re finally published, but the money isn’t what you expected. Your second book is better than your first, but doesn’t sell as well. You get published in HB, but DB won’t carry the HB in their stores so you go back to PB. You get a great national agent for your first horror novel, but the publishers pass on it.

Only the thing is, looking back at my previous writing, if I’d had instant success—meaning a big national publishing deal—it would have been the worst thing that could have happened to me. Even a couple of books ago, I wasn’t ready, either writing wise or marketing wise. I didn’t have the skill to win over a tough national market and I probably would have sat on my rear wondering why I wasn’t selling better.

Am I good enough now to succeed in the national market? I guess the only way I’ll know is to try. And like Sariah was saying, I suspect that I will find I don’t know near as much as I’d think, and am not as prepared as I’d like. Of course I get a little envious when I see other authors succeeding where I have only failed to date. But maybe they aren’t failures at only, only preparation?

Or possibly, (beating Rob to the punch line) I just stink.

Okay, here is a snippet of dialog between Weston (the boy who wants to be a horror writer and his friend.) Warning, I use the words hermaphrodite and homoerotic.

* * *

What I Did on my Summer Vacation
Westin stared at the computer as if, through sheer concentration, he could force more words to appear on the screen. He checked the clock. A quarter to five. Over an hour he’d spent sitting in front of the keyboard and seven words were all he had to show for it. It was an hour he could have spent working on his latest novella about intelligent carnivorous vines invading the dorms of a girls-only school.

He glanced at the bedroom door through which he could hear his mother beginning dinner. His hand slid to the PC’s mouse. It was tempting to click on the file menu and open the other document. But his mother seemed to have a kind of sixth sense about these things. As soon as he started doing something he shouldn’t, she magically appeared. That would actually make a pretty cool story. About a kid whose mom has special powers and can—

“I don’t hear any typing,” his mom called out—proving his point.

“I’m thinking!” he called back—not elaborating on what he was thinking about. He let go of the mouse and placed his fingers over the keyboard.

On my summer vacation I . . .

He searched his mind for something good. Something even Ms. Penhammer couldn’t complain about. But his mind kept returning to the killer vines and what they would do to the snotty class president once she finished tattling on the other girls to the headmaster.

“Come on, concentrate,” he whispered.

On my summer vacation I . . . went out the front door of my house and . . .

He felt as if his mind would explode.

On my summer vacation I . . . went out the front door of my house and . . . it was summer.

He stared at what he’d just written, unable to believe the sentence had actually come from his fingers. This was the end. He’d spent so much time trying to write the crap Ms. Penhammer wanted, that his mind had officially turned into mush. He selected the whole text—including the title—and hit DELETE.

Running his hands through his hair, he despaired of ever being able to get through the school year. Fortunately, he was saved by the ring of the telephone.

He snatched up the receiver. “Hello?”

“Where have you been, loser?” It was Thad Brooks—his best friend—who lived a couple of miles away. “I thought we were gonna—”

“Shhh,” Westin hissed, glancing toward the door. A second later the phone picked up and his mother’s voice came on the line.

“You know you’re not allowed to be on the phone until you get that paper done.”

“It’s Thad. He forgot to write down today’s math homework. I’m just looking it up for him.” He heard his mother sigh, and closed his eyes tightly, praying she wouldn’t stay on the phone.

“You’ve got two minutes,” she said. Westin listened to her return the phone to its cradle, then waited another couple of seconds to make sure she didn’t pick back up.

“Geez, you just about blew it,” he whispered.

“Math problems. That was a good one. How’d you come up with that?”

“A brain the size most men can only dream about.”

“Whatever,” Thad laughed. “Too bad it’s the only big thing you’ve got. If you ever meet a girl maybe you can impress her by whipping out your giant brain. While I, on the other hand, have my name written on wall of the girls’ bathroom, as a man among men.”

“I think you mean a man who likes men,” Weston said, and they both busted up.

“So are we still going out tonight?” Thad asked after they’d finished laughing. “I snagged a couple of my dad’s flashlights. And my sister’s camera in case we actually see him.”

“I can’t. My mom grounded me until I redo my English paper.”

Thad grunted. “I told you Ms. Penhammer wouldn’t like a story about corpses. Even if one of them does fall in love with a live girl. You’re such a dweeb.”

“Dork.”

“Hermaphrodite.”

“Homoerotic.”

“Homo-what?” Thad asked cackling. “That’s good. I gotta look that one up.”

Weston glanced toward the door. “Listen I have to go. My mom’s pretty ticked.”

“Alright, but I’m going tomorrow after school whether you come or not. Sooner or later he’s going to realize that a tree knocked down part of his fence, and then we’re screwed.”

“I’ll be there.” The phone picked up and Weston hurriedly rattled some papers. “Okay, if you have any problem with number seventy-two just give me a call.”

“Right. ‘cause you’ve got such a big brain.”

“’kay, bye.” Weston hung up the phone on his friend’s giggles, and began hitting random letters on the keyboard. “Writing,” he shouted. “Hear me? I’m writing.”


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Keys to the Universe

By Sariah S. Wilson

Something surprising happened to me after I got published. Nobody gave me the keys to the publishing universe.

It was sort of like when I had my first son. I knew the baby was coming. I was pregnant, after all (which is especially hard to miss when said child is nearly 13 pounds at birth and you resemble a baby orca. Speaking of which, I want to know where my CNN/Today Show crew was when I had a 12 pound, 12 ounce child - on my first try, I might add. That Buzzell family with the 13 pounder that was all over the media - that was their third child. Their first was 11, the second 10. It’s not that hard to get to 13 pounds on your third try. Maybe that’s why the Lord hasn’t sent me any more children. The world’s just not ready for a 15 pound baby.)

Anyway, back to what I was saying - we took these preparatory childbirth classes wherein they described the pain of childbirth as “discomfort” (but only if “discomfort” to you is, as Carol Burnett said, taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head). The class with its emphasis on the importance of natural childbirth was kind of a waste for me because I’m a firm believer in drugs to help with the “discomfort” of labor. While we were told to visualize our happy place, mine included an IV bag full of morphine.

But the instructor did say one thing that stuck with me (I mean, other than the whole “discomfort” nonsense). She described the birth process and talked about what you’d go through and how the doctors and nurses would all be there to help and coach you along and you’ve given birth and the baby is fine and you’re “fine” (how could you be anything other than fine with the only minor “discomfort” you felt?) and everything is wonderful and amazing and spiritual beyond belief…

And then…

Everybody leaves. It’s just you, your husband and your new baby. What do you do then?

I really thought about that. I thought about how we envision the process of giving birth for the first time over and over (and how it really won’t hurt that much, with the slight “discomfort”) and how you’re glorious and triumphant and then…then it’s just your new family. And you’re the mom.

The mom who has no idea what she’s doing.

I’m the oldest of nine. I probably had a better idea than most going into this what it would be like to have a newborn of my own. But I think some part of me half-hoped the heavens to open and divine guidance to instruct me on how to raise my child. Didn’t happen. I did it the way everyone does it - one day at a time, one step at a time, with lots and lots of phone calls to my own mom. Nobody handed me the mother keys.

Writing is often compared to labor and even if it’s not, then I am comparing it now for the purpose of me making my point (while duly noting that the “discomfort” of writing has nothing on the “discomfort” of childbirth).

Because, as I said in the beginning, no one will give you the writer keys either. You have to labor and learn and take it one day at a time, one step at a time. Your job doesn’t end with the acceptance of the manuscript. That’s only the beginning. In fact, believe it or not, I think it actually gets harder. There are benefits and wonderful things that happen, but there’s even more hard work and even more expected of you, whether you feel like writing or not. And I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.

You know, I bet if I’d given birth to a 12 pound book Matt Lauer would have flown out here personally.


From Today's Deseret News

Do you believe this is true?


Ex-LDS author says art, church clash

By Elaine JarvikDeseret Morning News
Six years ago, says author Brian Evenson, he had to make a choice between his church and his art. He chose his art.
Evenson is the author of six books but may be best known in his home state as the professor who left Brigham Young University after a flap over the publication of his first book, "Altmann's Tongue." He was back in Utah this week to speak at a Friday session of the Sunstone Symposium, the annual meeting that describes itself as "faith seeking understanding." This year's event, which runs through today, is focused on the intersection of Mormonism and popular culture.
Evenson asked to be excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he says, "not because of a profound disagreement with the doctrines of the church or because of moral differences" but because he felt he couldn't be both a writer and a Mormon. If he remained a member, he says, he found himself "too consciously weighing the church's opinion" of what he was writing. Being a member also limited "the way in which I processed emotion in my work," he says.
LDS writers, he told his audience in a talk called "Faithful to Whom: Art or the Church?" tend to self-censor. Many of those writers "are willing to ask questions to a certain point, and then they stop asking."
Evenson is now a professor at Brown University, where he chairs the program in literary arts.
"Altmann's Tongue," the book that made the BYU administration uneasy, is a collection of Poe-like short stories that are unflinching, at times macabre. What he wanted to portray, Evenson says, were situations where people responded to violence in unexpected ways.
As a child growing up LDS in Utah County, he was encouraged to write only positive things in his journal, he says. But what he discovered later, he says, was that his neighbors had the same struggles as people anywhere else, "even if many folks wanted to keep those problems hushed up." It was the "sense of balance, of light and dark" that fascinated him, he says.
It was an anonymous letter from a student to an LDS general authority that set in motion his eventual departure from BYU and his church. The letter accused Evenson of "writing the sort of book that was precisely the opposite of what a Mormon should write," he says. Later, his department chairman wrote a memo threatening that "further publications like it will bring repercussions." Still later, he says, the president and provost of BYU told him he had "a responsibility to members of the church to do work that will not offend them."
Evenson says he thought academic freedom would prevail but realizes now that "a religion, particularly a religion as corporate as Mormonism is, can never be reasoned with." What he has learned, he says, is that "if you decide to stand up for your own beliefs in the face of your religion, you will lose." But being challenged about his beliefs, he says, has made him a better writer.
He would like to believe, he says, "that other people might be able to do what they need to do for their writing or art and still maintain their church membership if that's what they desire. I don't think you can do it and be a typical Mormon, but I do think you can probably do it." Staying "under the radar" helps, he says.
In a question-and-answer period following Evenson's talk, several audience members noted that visual artists and musicians can more easily take risks without being censored. And, as one woman added: "There are several invisible places in the Mormon Church, and one is being an older woman."


Friday, August 11, 2006

Michele Ashman Bell (Read Her First-Ever Blog HERE!)

While we don't plan to change our title to “Numerous LDS Writers & a Frog” we did think it would be fun to invite guests in from time to time to take the place of one of us regular writers. There is, of course, no better day for this than Friday, so here is the first in a series of guest blogs from some of the best and brightest stars in the LDS publishing firmament.

The New Breakfast of Champions

by Michele Ashman Bell

I’ve decided to eat cheesecake for breakfast.

This decision has been made after much deliberation and thought. Don’t laugh. I’m very serious about this. Too much has happened lately in the news to ignore. I’ve decided that life is precious and much too short to waste on scrambled eggs and toast, or high fiber, low sugar cereal. I don’t want to die, thinking, “Why didn’t I eat more cheesecake?” Or, “Why didn’t I spend more time with my family?” Or, “Why didn’t we go to Europe? Or Disney World. Or Hawaii. Or wherever?” (Yes, my husband is freaking out because there is money attached to some of these thoughts.) Granted, it would cost a pretty penny to go on a family vacation somewhere like Europe or Disney World or Hawaii, but can you put a price on precious memories and time spent together as a family? In my opinion, no.

This epiphany has been liberating. If I want to stay in my pajamas until noon, I will. If I want to forget about laundry and take my kids swimming, I will. If my husband asks me to go get ice cream, or better yet, cheesecake, but I have something else planned, I spend time with my sweetheart, eating sweets. (It doesn’t get better than that!)

Of course, this doesn’t mean I’ve suddenly become unreliable and irresponsible. I’m too driven to sit around and do nothing. I have a busy life, with busy kids, and a busy husband. My life is very “full” and “fulfilling”. I still care about my writing and achieving my goals and dreams and helping my family do the same. But there are going to be some changes around here.

First of all, as an aerobic instructor for twenty-four years. (Yes, I was ten when I started.) I have spent said years eating healthy meals, skipping burgers and pasta, and eating salads and skipping desserts. It hasn’t been fun and I’ve felt robbed. So, I’ve given myself permission to have an occasional order of cheese fries and a milkshake and a bacon cheeseburger. This doesn’t mean I’m throwing away twenty-four years of hard work for nothing. I will still abide by the Word of Wisdom and practice moderation in all things. But it does mean that if I want orange chicken at Panda Express instead of steamed vegetables, I’m going to have it. It also means that time spent with my family is better than time spent with my vacuum.

When I was engaged to be married I stopped into an antique store to look around and met two delightful elderly women. They were partners and co-owners of this charming store. We got to talking and they found out I was a few weeks away from getting married. “Can I give you a piece of advice?” the one named Noreen asked. “Of course,” I responded, knowing full well that they had lived longer and were therefore smarter than I. “Betty and I started this business ten years ago because both of us lost our husbands in our early sixties,” she explained. Then she looked me square in the eye. “My husband and I decided to wait until he retired before we traveled and did the things we wanted to do while we were raising our family. Two months before he retired, he had a heart attack and died. We never got to do any of those things together that we dreamed about. My advice to you is to never put off till tomorrow, what you want to do today.”

So, what does this mean? Oh, don’t worry, I’m still driving carpool, doing laundry and yard work, making dinner, etc. But I’m also going to go places and do things that I’ve always wanted to go and do. I’m cherishing my family and friends more. And I’m having cheesecake for breakfast! I think Noreen and Betty would approve.

Michele Bell is the best-selling author of eighteen books -- with another coming in October. Her most recent releases are Rescue, the third installment in her popular children’s series, Latter-day Spies, and a gripping romance, Perfect Timing, which came out August 1. She is also a YA and children’s book reviewer for Meridian Magazine. Visit Michele’s website at www.micheleashmanbell.com

In connection with Michele’s new romance, Covenant is sponsoring a Perfect Proposal contest. What say we practice here? Tell us about your marriage proposal! Or, if you’re unmarried – or just shy – tell us about the best proposal you’ve ever seen, heard of, or imagined! Who knows, maybe this will be a springboard for one of our readers to win Michele’s contest. We’d love to see you at the Mystery Dinner on September 29!


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Titles, Outlines, Why Rob is a Stupid Head, and Cords

First of all, let me apologize for getting this in so late. Publishing is kind of like the army. You wait forever to get things going and suddenly have to do everything all at once. So, having survived the audio book abridgement (Rob I hate you for not having to do that!), the edits, and the proof-reading all over the course of a few days, it’s nice to catch my breath.

A couple of random writing thoughts here:

First—Titles serve one purpose only, as do covers. That is, to sell books. Sometimes I’ve picked them out and sometimes they’ve been picked for me. (Although I have always been asked for my input.) I thought I had a killer title for my first book. Cut Throat. This was kind of a dual play on words. The book was about the cut throat nature of the high-tech world, and there was a symbolic allusion to a cut throat trout chasing after an attractive fly that could actually get it killed at the end of the book.

My publisher changed the name to Cutting Edge. At the time I was really ticked off. I thought (and still think) that my title better represented the story. What I didn’t realize was that Covenant was going hard after the male reader market, and the cover of the book looked like a computer motherboard. Turned out they knew what they were talking about because the book sold very well.

Think about the titles of recent books you’ve picked up and read lately. Most of them tie into the book somewhat, but all of them are designed to catch your attention and get you to look inside. When you decide on a title for your book, consider what will the attract the audience you are writing for.

Second—Stephanie was talking about the end of her book and how she didn’t know exactly what was going to happen. That is my favorite way to write. You throw a bunch of fun characters into a situation and see what they do. It’s definitely easier and quicker to write with a tight outline, but it’s really cool when you surprise yourself.

Third—Rob, you dumb head, don’t you know that the whole reason for having a family reunion near your home is so that when everyone else is stuck in their tents with screaming kids, you can be in a warm bed, having taken a hot shower, and watching your TIVOed episode of 24! You’re young, but you’ll learn. (Okay that wasn’t a writing thought but it’s fun to mock Rob.)

Fourth—Just like in real life, characters in your book are connected to other characters by cords. Some cords are fragile little things that can break under the slightest breeze and others are big honking cables like the kind that hold up the Golden Gate Bridge. In a good novel, what happens to one character has some kind of effect on every other character. They key to a good book is helping the reader discover the links between your characters without hitting them over the head or introducing too many characters all at once.

In A Taste For Fear the whole town is going to be affected by the evil, along with my four protags. Obviously I can’t show every person who lives in the town. But I need to introduce a representative sample of men women and children (and dogs, Kerry) so the reader gets an idea of what is going on in households all across Desolation. But at the same time, it’s scarier if you have a connection to the characters before I scare the life out of them. You never know who is going to survive and who isn’t, so you are always on edge.

I had two choices in how to go about this. The first is favored by authors like Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy. They like to introduce a new character every few chapters of the book for the first half of the novel. You have no idea how or why the characters will come together by the end. (In other words, what cords bind them and how strong those connections might be.) This is great for building suspense, but it has a few drawbacks for what I wanted to accomplish.

The first problem is that if I introduce a bunch of minor characters one by one, the reader may start losing track of who’s who and not caring. Second I want to build up a bond between the main protags. Also, I am dealing with a small town which makes it harder to play that kind of angle.

Personally, I prefer following one character and tying cords to other characters as we go along. The teacher meets the principal who shows him several students. The teacher hooks up to different students in the classroom and follows one out. The student leads to his mother. Then we jump to the student for a while, who is in trouble for getting a bad bad grade in school and plots with his best friend to sneak up to the writer’s house at night. When his mother leaves for work, we briefly pop back to the principal’s house, where his trusty dog Bandit smells something strange and disturbing in the woods. As the creature closes in, we go back to the mother who is hosting her nightly talk radio show. (Which incidentally the principal is listening to in his garage.)

If we do this right, you enjoy all of the scenes without getting frustrated. As the book progresses, we’ll spend more and more time with the main characters while interspersing terror among the townspeople along the way. In the section below, notice how many people you meet (hopefully without feeling overwhelmed.) Do you think Ms. Pensmith, who you haven’t even met in person yet, is going to come in contact with something creepy and crawly over the next few days?

***************

Standing before a class—or in this case sitting cross-legged on his new desk—Bill felt completely in his environment. It didn’t matter whether he was in Toledo or Timbuktu. He got a kick out of opening students’ eyes to the world in a new way most of them had never even considered up to that point in their lives.

“Put your books away,” he said as the bell rang to signal the start of class and several students began to dig into their backpacks. There was a light smattering of applause from a few of the students along with several “cool”s and a “sweet.”

“Are you the substitute teacher?” asked a gum chewing blonde girl who looked to be about fourteen.

“Ashley?” Bill asked, checking the seating chart.

She nodded.

“Nope, I’m the real thing. You’re stuck with me until the end of the semester. From Plymouth Rock to the Industrial Revolution, if I read my syllabus right.” Now the applause turned into moans.

Bill raised his hands in mock indignation. “How can you boo me? You don’t even know me yet.”

The Goth boy who he’d seen playing the guitar banged his forehead with his fist and rolled his eyes. “History’s boring.” There was a general murmur of assent from around the room.

Bill checked the list of students again. “Andrew?”

The boy rolled his eyes and tugged on the silver skull hanging from his left ear. “Splatter.”

“Sounds messy,” Bill said to the amusement of the rest of the class. “All right then, Splatter, give me an example of something boring you’ve covered so far in this class.”

“Freedom of religion,” the Goth answered immediately, showing he’d been paying attention even if he hadn’t wanted to. “Who cares about the Protestant reformation or the Church of England? What does that have to do with life?”

The other students watched closely—perched on the edge of the seats, elbows on their desks, leaning forward to see how the new teacher would handle this. Here was the point where you either hooked them for the rest of the year or lost them completely. Bill ran his fingers through his curly black hair and tugged on the end of his beard. “Who’s your favorite band?” he asked.

The boy blinked and looked around as if not sure he’d heard right. “Cinema Strange.”

Bill nodded. “I’d probably lean more toward Black Ice but fair enough.”

The boy blinked again, but this time Bill could see at least a touch of admiration. “You listen to death rock?”

Bill turned to a slouching boy with a black Stetson pulled low on his forehead and a suspicious lump in his left cheek. “What’s your favorite band?”

Little Texas,” the boy drawled, sitting up.

“I’m a Willie Nelson fan myself, but I wouldn’t turn down a chance to see Little Texas if they ever get back together. Now spit that chew in the trashcan and don’t let me see you bringing it to class in the future.”

The cowboy got up and spit a brown lump into the metal wastebasket, all the while watching the new teacher.

Bill turned to the girl with the gum. “They Might Be Giants or Three Doors Down?”

The girl’s eyes widened. “They Might be Giants.”

“Great, now spit out your gum. The only thing I want in your mouth in my class is your tongue and I don’t want to see that unless you can catch flies with it.”

Turning back to the whole class—all of whom were watching with real interest—he held out both hands and got off the desk. “The greatest band of all time is undoubtedly The Stones. But the wonderful thing is I can’t force you to listen to my favorite music just because you are young and ignorant. You can worship at the shrine of whatever icon melts your butter.” There was general laughter throughout the room now, and no one was sleeping.

“That, ladies and gentleman is freedom of religion.”

* * *

“Don’t forget I want you to come to class tomorrow prepared to compare and contrast the American colonies with the Rebel Alliance. I’ll be looking for a page and a half on which founding father most reminds you of Yoda and how England might have used Darth Vader,” Bill called out as the bell rang signaling the end of school for the day. He was back on his desk again, legs crossed as if he were preparing to begin meditation. His elbows rested on his knees and his slacks hiked up enough to reveal red and blue Mickey Mouse socks.

Slinging packs over their shoulders and tucking books under their arms, the students headed out into the hallway. “You don’t suck much,” Splatter said as he passed by.

“Back atcha.” Bill nodded.

The cowboy in the black hat stopped in front of the desk. “You really like country or were you just saying that?”

Amy’s Back in Austin is one of my all time favorites.”

“Cool.”

Bill reached out to rap his knuckles on the can of chew in the boy’s shirt pocket. “Give that stuff up. Chicks are turned off by guys with brown teeth. And they’re really turned off by guys with no teeth.”

The kid shrugged with a shy grin. “I’ll think about it.”

One of the last students to leave was a boy with shaggy brown hair and John Lennon glasses, Westin Holbrook. As he left the room he dropped a sheaf of papers into the garbage.

Curious, Bill got off the desk and retrieved them. It was an English assignment, dated the week before—a story of some kind. Ms. Pensmith, 3rd Period was printed in the upper right hand corner. The title, Houses of the Unholy, had a few flecks of tobacco on it from the trash. Bill brushed them away with the tip of one finger and read the first paragraph.

A tremor of revulsion ran through the girl’s body as she wrapped the tattered black shawl more tightly around her shoulders and stepped into the crypt. The damp and cold seemed even worse in the confines of the small building than it had in the storm outside. Red and gold leaves chased across the stone floor like pieces of a broken sunset. The stink of decay hung in the air like the perfume of the dead.

Creepy and a perhaps a little overdone, but all in all not too bad— especially for a high school freshman. He flipped to the last page and grimaced at the message scrawled there in red pen.

D –
Why do you insist of turning in this filth? The last thing the world needs is another Stephen King. Try reading some Milton or Hemmingway instead of filling your head with blood and awful creatures. Horror is for the voyeuristic and weak minded!!

No wonder the poor kid threw it away. Obviously Ms. Pensmith was the wrong audience for this work. Bill stepped through the classroom door. At the end of the hallway he saw the boy close his locker with a bang.

“Hey!” Bill shouted. “Westin, wait up.” He ran down the hall, dodging students, clutching the papers in his hand. This was good writing. One day the kid would wish he’d hung onto it.

Swinging his backpack, the boy pushed through the double glass doors that led to the parking lot. Bill reached the doors a few seconds later and pushed through them into the bright afternoon sunlight. Hands on his hips, he tried to catch his breath from the sprint. This altitude would take some getting used to.

The parking lot—nearly empty that morning—was alive with a profusion of children and vehicles. Boys and girls weaved in and out of the slow-moving lines of cars and trucks with seemingly no concern for personal safety. Teenagers honked and waved to their friends while younger kids climbed into their parents’ cars. By far the majority of the vehicles were SUVs and pick-up trucks.

Shading his eyes with one hand, Bill scanned the chaos for Westin’s blue and yellow polo shirt. He thought he saw him standing by a hunter green truck with a couple of other guys. But when the boy turned his head, Bill realized the boy was several years older than Weston.

As he was about to give up, a battered old station wagon—one of the kind with wood paneling on the sides and a rear-facing back seat—drove past. Weston was sitting in the passenger seat.

“Hang on!” he shouted waving the papers above his head. The boy looked studiously forward as the car passed by, but the driver glanced in Bill’s direction. She was an attractive woman with cropped brown hair the same color as the boy’s and a small upturned nose. Bill placed her somewhere in her mid to late thirties.

She tilted her head questioningly and Bill pointed to the papers. As the station wagon’s brake lights flashed red, the boy slunk low in his seat.