Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, March 19, 2007

Tipping My Hat

by Jeffrey S Savage

A little over six years ago, Covenant called to tell me they were accepting my first novel, Cutting Edge. Like most first time authors, I had a lot to learn. You mean I won’t sell fifty-thousand copies of my first book, or second, or third? I can’t retire from my day job and buy a cabin in the mountains? I won’t get to choose my cover or title? But amidst all the confusion, I found a friend who helped talk me through all the ups and downs. An extremely successful LDS author took me under his wing and explained the ins and outs of book signings, marketing, my web site, etc. His name is Chris Heimerdinger.

As a new author, it would have been easy for other more successful authors to blow me off. But I quickly learned that instead of hiding their trade secrets, the other authors (technically my competitors) were some of the nicest and most helpful people I’d ever met. They share their time and talents with others despite the fact that between writing and their “real” life, there’s not a lot of leftover time. With that in mind, I’d like to offer kudos and a comment or two about some of the people I’ve met along the way. I’ll apologize in advance now for the fact that I won’t get to everyone on tonight’s blog. But if you enjoy this one, I’ll try and do more in the future.

Chris Heimerdinger—I really have to start with Chris, since he was my first mentor. Chris has disappeared from view for awhile as he works to finish his movie, but he set the standard for LDS authors in many ways. Never one to pull any punches, he told me what to expect from the LDS publishing industry—the good, bad, and ugly. Chris has spent an immense amount of time doing good works over and above his writing. He has given advice to many others, done guided tours of the Book of Mormon lands, expanded into LDS film, and set the standard in writing books enjoyed by the entire family.

Jennie Hansen—The first time I met Jennie was at a book signing, and frankly she scared the crap out of me. She looked at me over her stack of a gazillion books and I nervously looked at my one pitiful novel. She seemed so stern and intimidating, I just about turned and ran out of the bookstore. But when she opened her mouth, everything changed. Jennie is a wonderful person and a good friend. She has been through the ups and downs of Covenant and has never wavered in her support of them. She’s written romances, historicals, westerns, and much more. Without compensation, Jennie has written one of the best LDS book review columns for years on Meridian magazine. She has been, and is still a great champion of LDS publishing.

Rachel Nunes—If Anita Stansfield is the Queen of LDS romance, Rachel is the crown princess. I’ve lost count of all the novels she’s published, but it’s well over twenty. Rachel has worked with several LDS publishers, and is currently one of DB’s top sellers. She has been instrumental in uniting LDS authors and founding an amazing LDS writing conference. By standing up for what she believes in, she has helped make the way easier for other LDS authors. When my first novel came out, Rachel invited me to join an e-mail list of other authors who taught me most of what I know. That group broke apart and reformed into LDSStorymakers. This is a group whose primary goal is educating the LDS audience about LDS fiction, helping LDS authors from all publishers to improve their craft, and teaching new and upcoming authors.

Kerry Blair—It used to be that I showed up at book signings with a pen and a smile. Usually the store manager set up a table with a poster of my book, and I was good to go.
Then one day I walked into a store and saw an incredible sight. The lady who was signing before me had turned her table into a display that would put a Relief Society teacher to shame. She had her own table cloth, cool displays, handouts, goodies. AND . . . she was the nicest person I had ever met. She was friendly to everyone, whether they purchased her book or not. She would talk and laugh with the employees. Every store manager Loved her with a capital L. She has spent countless hours turning the annual Covenant mystery dinner into a huge success. She writes books that make me laugh out loud, and she is a great friend to everyone who knows her.

Heather Moore and Annette Lyon—The first time I met Heather and Annette was my first night at a critique group. I had no idea what to expect, and I was amazed at how they could do such a good review of other’s work, while we were reading. Annette was writing a fantasy and Heather was writing kind of a mystery romance thing. Annette always handed back my work covered with red marks. Heather wasn’t entirely sure where her story was headed and we’d say things like, “Is this going to be an important clue?” And she’d answer, “I’m not sure. Maybe.” We have all improved A LOT since those early days, and much of it can be laid at the feet of the critique group (or as I like to call them, The Ladies of Wednesday Night.)

Bill Gardner (who writes as Willard Boyd Gardner)—When my first book, Cutting Edge, came out. Covenant was trying to publish more “guy” books. Bill was the perfect author. As an ex SWAT member and a writing professor he is amazing. We always go to Bill when we need to get answers to police questions. As a cop, Bill once said to himself that he’d give his right arm to be a writer. Shortly after that, his right arm was badly injured in the line of duty and he writes great books. Bill is in charge of the Boot Camp at the conference this year. He is a great teacher and a truly nice guy—even if he does give me crap about writing “girl” books.

James Dashner—As much as I hate to admit it, Dashner is a pretty fun writer. Kids love him, and he manages to make all of them feel important. And while you wouldn’t expect it from such a nerdy looking CPA, he has a truly warped imagination. Just today he sent me an e-mail about the web site of an author who shall remain unnamed, that literally made me cry, I laughed so hard. He is like the kid who sat in the back of class telling stories and flinging boogers. I just wish he would learn to use a Kleenex now. By the way, he will be the MC of the SM conference this weekend, and I guarantee he will make you laugh your rear off.

Julie Wright (aka Jules)—If you have not read “My Not So Fairytale Life,” shame on you. Go out and get it right now. Julie is the best writer I have ever met who has absolutely no confidence. She whips out these amazing books, then worries herself sick that no one will like them. She knows everything there is to know about Star Wars and Disney. Although she has suffered for years with a back that literally pained her to tears most of the time, she has been tireless in teaching classes, helping with the conference, promoting like crazy, and just being a wonderful person to be around. She and Josi Kilpack, who I interviewed earlier, have put an amazing amount of time and effort into the conference for not a single dime.

Tristi Pinkston—If you like historical novels, Tristi is your author. You will never look at the Japanese interment camps the same way. She sticks to her guns even if it means not publishing a novel she really wants to, because the publisher has a policy against polygamy in their novels. Tristi will help anyone anywhere.

Michele Holmes(Another of TLOWN)—Michele is publishing her first novel this year. It’s called Counting Stars. She has experienced all the highs and lows of getting a book from a manuscript to a finished product, and come out shining. She’ll tell you that the editing process is not for the faint of heart. She has been a big help in editing my books. And to anyone who tries to tell me you can’t get published by Covenant unless you have a book already out with them, I’ll point to her. Her new book is a great combination of drama, romance, and really funny humor. I’ve never read an LDS romance novel whose main character was as funny as hers.

There are a lot more people I’d like to blog about—especially on the editing and marketing side of things. Plus great authors like Candace Salima, Shirley Bahlmann, BJ Rowley, Matthew Buckley, Michelle Ashman Belle (aka the motorcycle babe), Betsy Green, and of course the rest of the great authors on this group. Unfortunately, I really need to get back to my latest book. But I couldn’t finish this blog without mentioning our own Sariah, who came up with the idea for this blog in the first place. I know I bug the heck out of her at times, but I really admire all the marketing work she has done to promote her excellent books. Thanks, Sariah.


At 3/20/2007 9:21 AM, Blogger Josi said...

Jeff--what a great list! I can echo many of these specific sentiments and am continually amazed that the busiest people I know still take time to give me advice...and then I find out they are doing it for another dozen people just like me. Chris and his wife Beth were great helps to me in the beginning--again he pulled no punches with me even if I staggered backward from the reality shock. Rachel has changed my entire career...a couple of times. Julie, Tristi, James, Bill Annette, Heather and yourself look really good in those cheerleader outfits (though you boys really ought to wear tights)even when I pop off and do or say something stupid (when do I NOT pop off and say something stupid?)
Jennie and Kerri and Sariah are priceless pieces of the puzzle we call the LDS market. Thanks for the reminder of just how many people I'll have to thank once I win the oscar...oh wait, that's for film? Shoot!

At 3/20/2007 10:01 AM, Blogger Michele Holmes said...

Thanks, Jeff. And right back at you. I wouldn't be getting published if not for the women---and you couple of men---of Wednesday night. I am certain that any help you received along the way, you've more than given back in mentoring me and others. It is much appreciated.

If the Storymakers are as nice as our critique group, I am in for a treat of a weekend!

At 3/20/2007 10:30 AM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

It's amazing how much we can help each other. I remember going to my very first LUW meeting and you were the speaker. You laid everything out so matter of factly, it was like a light bulb went on. The reason I even decided to submit to the LDS market was because of you and Annette. If not for that, I'd still be getting rejections. As I've been preparing for the conference, I've pulled up some of those early manuscripts. They horrify me :) And I must apologize to my critique group for the pain I must have put them through. LOL.

At 3/20/2007 10:37 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

And yet, I read your Out of Jerusalem series now and just shake my head at how amazingly good it is.

At 3/20/2007 12:04 PM, Blogger Carole Thayne said...

Although my list of authors who have helped me and encouraged me differs a little from yours Jeff. I agree, I have yet to meet an author who didn't encourage me and bend over backwards to help. I have a lot of good friends in the writing world. Thanks for such an inspirational tribute.

At 3/20/2007 12:47 PM, Anonymous Jennie Hansen said...

Jeff, what a great column and thanks for the kind things you said about me. I'm sorry you found me intimidating at first, but I'll admit it was only because book signings have always scared me half to death. I'm really basically a bit shy. You got me thinking about the other writers who have greatly influenced my career. Anita Stansfield and I cheered each other on when we belonged to the same Romance Writers chapter, I learned most of the good things I know about book signings from Chris Heimerdinger (At my first signing, his table was at the front of the store while mine was buried in the back. He walked back to my table, picked it up, and carried it to the front to sit beside his own), Kerry Blair(She comes prepared to catch attention, then focuses on promoting others-a truly giving person), and Gerald Lund. (There's nothing quite as ego satisfying as the number of sales a person gets when she sits next to Gerald and each person who stops to get his signature is passed onto theperson beside him with a kind, gentle reccommendation.) I could add an amen to most of Jeff's list and add many more--my own old critique group (Sherry Lewis, Kathy Lloyd, DeLoy Barnes, etc. most of whom publish nationally now), Julie Bellon, Marnie Pehrson, Karen Fogg, Toni Sorensen Brown,Rob Wells, Dean Hughes, Josi Kilpack, Nancy Campbell Allen, Jeanette Raliston, David Woolley, Tom Roulstone, Clair Poulson, and my beloved V-Formation.

I, too, am almost overwhelmed by the kindness and generous sharing that exists between writers in this market. Sometimes it makes offering honest, critical reviews difficult. Yet, here, too, I am impressed by the way these writers take criticism like the professionals they are and go on to become better and better.

At 3/20/2007 3:03 PM, Blogger James Dashner said...

Geez Savage, I'm gettin' all weepy over here. Did you join the Relief Society or something? That's probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me. Well, sans that whole nerdy-looking thing. :-)

Trust me, the feeling is mutual. I really look forward to our now pretty regular lunch meetings. And there's no doubt that you've helped me FAR more than I've helped you, so there.

At 3/20/2007 3:11 PM, Blogger Josi said...

What you've done, Jennie, (in addition to your own books :-) is kept objectivity alive in this market. A Jennie Hansen review is always honest, regardless of whether or not it stings a little. I don't know how you do it when the people you review are your friends and neighbors, but I know WHY, because you are committed to greatness and the only way any of us can get it is if we get honest feedback and can then see our weaknesses. You're a vital part of this market in many way.

Sheesh--someone pass the syrup?

At 3/20/2007 9:09 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

I'm going to have to steal Jeff's idea here and blog sometime soon about all the amazing people who have helped me on my journey, because this writing and publishing thing can't happen in a vacuum. Jeff, you've been a big part of my success, too.

If my critiques come back with red marks everywhere, yours return pretty white but always start with, "Well, I don't have much to say at all. It was really great. Just two comments, really. Well, two rather BIG things . . ." And dang it if you're always right.

At 3/20/2007 10:48 PM, Blogger Keith Fisher said...

I'm not sure I dare post in the company of such great authors but having been one who has benefitted from your help, as well as all those others, Thank you.

Now, get out of the Relief Society room, come back into quorum meeting and get back to work. :)

At 3/21/2007 12:46 PM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

Jeff, You made me cry while I was sitting in my office (you made me cry the other day too when you retaliated to our childish James but for entirely different reasons) And you are so right about those you blogged. These are the same people who help me on every step I've taken down the pathway to publication--you included. You've saved my sanity on more occasions than I can count. Thanks!

At 3/22/2007 4:45 PM, Blogger Darvell Hunt said...

James Dashner wrote:

>That's probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me.
>Well, sans that whole nerdy-looking thing.

Well, if it wasn't the nerdy-looking thing, was it the booger-flinging thing?



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