Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Alarming Developments

by Stephanie Black

I find it embarrassing when I set off store alarms. Not that I make a hobby of setting off alarms, but it has happened numerous times. And in most cases, the only person it seems to bother is me. If any store employees are bothered, they politely keep their opinions to themselves, even as the alarm beeps the message that I might be escaping with the Crown Jewels tucked in my purse. When an alarm goes off, I usually hesitate and look around to see if any employees are charging toward me waving police batons. If no one seems interested, I go my way, feeling like a fugitive.

What’s the point of having an alarm if no one reacts when it goes off? Case study: my oldest daughter and I were at the mall several years back. We wandered in and out of stores, purchasing things and browsing. Then alarms started going off. We’d walk into a store and the alarm would sound. We’d leave the store and the alarm would sound. We rooted through our bags, trying to find a security tag left on a blouse or something. Finally, after setting off multiple alarms, we found the problem—a security tag attached to a ring my daughter had purchased. With all the alarms we set off, not to mention our shifty eyes and ski masks, you’d think someone would have approached us at some point. But they didn’t.

Today I went to the mall with my two-year-old daughter to pick up some software at a computer store. I made my purchase, sailed merrily out of the store and headed back toward our car. I’d parked outside Sears, so I went back into Sears. When I crossed the threshold, a noisy alarm went off. Hmm. No alarm had gone off when I left the computer store; what was Sears’ problem? But no employees approached me. I walked through the store and set off the alarm again at the exit door. In fact, I set it off three times—step out, step in, step out. If anyone cared, they weren’t fast enough about it, so my toddler and I headed out to the car and drove to our criminal lair, cackling all the way.

I’m assuming that stores simply don’t have the money to hire employees to linger near the exits and deal with everyone who sets off the alarm. Wal-Mart is an exception. They often do have someone near the front and I have been stopped at Wal-Mart a couple of times. Maybe I should quit dressing all in black and carrying a flashlight and a coil of rope when I shop.

'Roid Rage

by Robison Wells

Alert: Men are big whiny babies.

The neat thing about this news is that I don't think there are many men who will disagree. When I get sick, there's nothing I like more than to tell the entire world how terrible I feel, and have neighbors bring me casseroles and hold candlelight vigils. Because, like, I'm really sick. My personal favorite illness activity: I take my temperature about every four minutes, just to see if anything's changed. I like having a fever because it's indisputable proof that I'm not just making it all up.

Last week I was on vacation, enjoying the heck out of Disneyland. And yet, even though it was eighty degrees and sunny--not to mention the happiest place on earth--I had a nagging, persistent cough. I'd stand in line for Storybookland, and by the time we'd get up to the front the rest of the crowd would have squirted Purel into their mouths for fear of inhaled infection. With my wheezing, painful cough I sounded not unlike the eighth and ninth dwarfs: Wheezy and Painful.

And it wasn't like this was the beginning of the cough. This thing had been going on for a good month. The kids had gotten it, and recovered. My wife had gotten it, and recovered. But I got it, and it stayed and stayed. This cough was The Cat in the Hat, and I had no Clean-It-Up-Quick machine! (Sorry, I couldn't think of a Disney-movie unwelcome guest.) (Pocahontas?)

So, everyday in California my wife would tell me that I needed to go to the doctor when I got home, and I'd tell her that yes, I did, but that the best therapy I could get in California was a frosty chocolate milkshake. If my antibodies couldn't damage this cough then I'd freeze it out! Or chocolate it out!

Eventually the vacation ended and the vacation budget was spent. No longer could I afford medicinal ice cream, and my insurance certainly didn't seem to be in a hurry to cover it. So I went to the doctor.

And the verdict? Asthma.

My dad has had asthma his whole life, and my sister developed it as an adult (or as adult as she's ever been--OH SNAP!). But more than that, all of my grandma's brothers and sisters had severe asthma, to the point where two of them died because of it. Kinda makes you want to bring me a casserole.

So, the bad part is not the cough which, you know, is just a cough. Yeah, it's annoying and painful, but I've had coughs before. No, the bad part is that I'm now on a steroid treatment. It's long been rumored that I'm the hunkiest LDS writer around (possible exception: Jack "The Body" Weyland), but now my sinewy muscles ripple with dreamy good-lookingness. In fact, the cover of Stephanie Black's latest potboiler romance will feature a painting of me, in a pirate costume. The only problem with the steroids is that I'll now have an asterisk next to my Bestseller ranking:

"The Counterfeit, #3 Bestseller at Seagull Book and Tape, July 2006*.
*Possibly the result of performance-enhancing drugs."

No, the real problem with steroids is that they suck and I hate them. When I got them from the pharmacy, I was informed the side effects were "you'll get agitated, and they might make you grumpy". (When I related that news to my family, they all asked "But how will we tell the difference?")

Also: the steroids cause a ton of joint pain, particularly in knees and elbows, but also, for some stupid reason, in my sternum. So, I can't breath, and I can't sleep, and it hurts to do everything. The only good news is that I also got some cough medicine with codeine. Codeine, my friends, is an opiate. I'm thinking I ought to just head back to Fantasyland and join the hookah-smoking caterpillar.

Now the thing is, everyone on earth has asthma. It's not that big of a deal, really, what with modern medicine and high-tech SCIENCE. If it weren't for the steroids' side-effects, I'd be pretty much okey-dokey. But even so, I plan to milk this thing for all that it's worth. I'll be passing around a dinner calendar shortly--no Tuna Surprise, please.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Scene that?

by Jeffrey S Savage
As it happens, I have some pretty strong opinions on the whole butterfly vs. penguins debate. And I think much of it come down to global warming. Also, while I would like to hear more of Rob’s embarrassing moments, I don’t think I can ever beat his peeping tom story, (I mean “accidentally” staying under the bed story.) So I guess I’ll just keep riding the creative writing class blog as long as it holds out. (Also, I really like it when Stephanie gets riled up at me.) Since next week’s class on getting published is the final one, you won’t have to suffer much longer.

Today’s class is on setting. Not Stephanie’s completely ludicrous ideas on point of view or Kerry’s crazy concept that humor actually improves a story. (Especially not humor regarding male writers whose female characters can eat anything they want.)

In his book, “On Writing,” Stephen King says:

“I think locale and texture are much more important to the reader’s sense of actually being in the story than any physical description of the players.”

Setting can do many things. It can create a mood. It can place clues. It can convey information to the reader. It move the set expectations. It can also bore the reader to tears.

1 When deciding on your setting, pick the first three or four things you notice in your mental image and go with those. You can always rewrite later. Do not go with much more than that or you will bore the reader. See the example below. For example, let’s say we are going to place the scene in a parking garage. What are the first three things that come to mind for you? For me they are: the smell of oil and car exhaust, the low—almost claustrophobic ceilings, and the thump-thump and squeal of car tires as they cross the concrete and turn. So those are the things I will go with.

2 The second thing to consider is what mood you want to set with the scene. Imagine a scene that begins inside a junior high school building. What is the mood you get with that memory? It will vary from person to person depending on their JHS memories. Excitement at seeing all your old friends and finding out who they are seeing and what they are wearing? Apprehension at how you will be received by kids you don’t know? Fear that the bully will catch you? Pride at no longer being in “baby school?” Were you the jock? The cheerleader? The outcast? The nerd? The popular kid? The straight A student? The kid who did just enough—or a little less than necessary—to get by?

Depending on your mood, the front doors can look like a passage to adulthood or prison bars. You can notice the smell or fresh cut grass or sweaty adolescence. The halls can be filled with the sounds of excited female giggling or unexpected danger.

3 How much detail you spend on describing the scene should be directly relevant to the type of story you are writing. If you story is very much about the “place” where the story occurs, you may go into great detail describing it. If your story is mostly about the characters or idea, you will generally give just enough description to move the story forward. If you are writing a mystery you may describe more, because the reader is looking for clues. Remember what Chekov called the “Gun Over The Mantle” rule. If you see a gun over the mantle in act one, it must go off by act three.

4 Why are you using that particular locale? Before choosing the location think about it strengths and benefits to your story. Is it isolated? That may be good or bad depending on whether the main character is going to need resources. Does it give you a narrow scope of character types or broad opportunities? Is it a “cozy” setting or an “epic” setting? Will it mean the same thing to the average reader as it means to you?

5 Add color to your scene. Go on-line and research the locale. Visit it if you can. Talk to people who have been there. Look at pictures. Little details are sometimes the best. The smell of Coppertone suntan lotion. The sound of rollerblades clicking across the sidewalk. Latin music playing from a boom box in a third story window. Teenagers bobbing and shaking to music no one can hear. The ching-ching-ching of a distant jackpot while everyone around you focuses on feeding their own machine which never hits. The lingering smell of overcooked cabbage.

6 Try throwing in different verbs to spice up a clichéd scene. Raindrops can certainly pound against the window pane, but see what happens when you change the verb pounded to something that at first blush may not seem to fit.

What if you tried these: Raindrops tap danced against the window pane. Raindrops cried against the window pane. Raindrops fired against the window pane. Raindrops chuckled against the window pane. Raindrops bled against the window pane. Raindrops exploded against the window pane.

In my class, a student wanted to convey how a young boy ran up the steps on his first day at a new school. Instead of saying, “The boy ran up the steps two at a time.” he wrote “The boy gobbled the steps in quick leaps.” I love that.

7 Use good similes a metaphors. But don’t overdo them and don’t use clichés. A good metaphor is one which communicates the concept to the reader without hitting them over the head.

Here are a couple of examples of scene setting from a writer who’s kind of hack, but was willing to let me quote him:

Dawn came slowly, wrapped in layer upon layer of continually drizzling clouds and an on-again, off-again mist blown back and forth by a wind that couldn’t seem to settle on any one direction. The heater in Chase and Dimwhitty’s car blew out a mildewy stream of lukewarm air that nearly made me wish I was outside.

In the above example the protagonist is waiting in the back of a cop car before going into a dangerous situation.

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. The street was empty other than the occasional heavily bundled jogger heading toward City Creek Canyon. I wondered if they were really runners or cops in disguise.

In this example, the writer uses three key things (the houses, the leaves, and the joggers, to paint a picture you can fill in yourself.)

Okay, now that I’ve bored you to tears, let’s throw out another contest. I don’t have a frog pack. But here’s what I’ll offer. The top three winners will get your choice of: a signed picture of Rob in a hula skirt, a Nerf football signed by Stephanie Black (queen of the football picks), and a signed copy of Sariah’s new book.

Here are the rules. Think of one of the following: Your favorite restaurant, first day in Junior High, local graveyard, or a relative’s house. Take the first three or four things that come to mind. Scents, sights, sounds, temperature, etc. Decide on a mood. Now write a maximum of 150 words describing the scene. Especially focus on showing, not telling. Don’t tell me Matt is afraid, show me how he clutches his keys and looks over his shoulder.

Here is my example from the garage scene:

I unconsciously ducked my head as I stepped into the ancient parking garage. I knew the celing wasn’t as low as it looked, yet I felt like Gandolf stepping into Frodo’s hobbit hole. Although I imagined a hobbit hole would smell a lot better than the exhaust laden air that assaulted my nose. From somewhere above or below the thump-thump thump-thump of a car’s tires reassured me I wasn’t actually inside a crypt, but my level was so deserted I found myself whistling just to keep away the jim-jams.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Best Dressed Amphibian in a Supporting Role

The Frog arrives on the red carpet at the Oscars. Asked about the rumor that he and Gloria (Happy Feet) are an item, The Frog replied, "No comment."

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Trouble with False Advertising

by Sariah S. Wilson

This is a ranting blog. You have been warned.

So, last weekend we went to see "Bridge to Terabithia" with our boys.

Admittedly, it has been many, many years since I read the book and I had no recollection of the plot at all.

We all wanted to go based solely on the trailer. Have you seen it? It's the one where it looks like a boy and girl enter a mythical magical land. Sort of like a Chronicles of Narnia (or for you "Lazy Sunday" fans the Chronic-WHAT-Culs of Narnia) type movie.

We went to the movie and I waited. And waited. And waited for the hero and heroine to get into the fairy world. It easily took over an hour just for the first magical type thing to happen.

I will tell you this - if you've seen the trailer you have seen every single "other world" scene the movie has.

Because this movie isn't about fluffy puppies and leprechauns. It's about someone dying.

It's very, very depressing. And someone dies.

And did I mention there's a death?

People around me were sobbing and my 4-year-old and 7-year-old were completely confused.

I walked out of there feeling totally cheated and robbed. Disney had publicized this movie as a family flick. Its trailer deliberately sets out to make you think that this is about a magical land with magical creatures, but there's less than 15 minutes total in the entire movie of those sorts of scenes.

It made it so that I will very carefully research the next Disney "family" movie that I take my children to see.

Disney tricked me as a customer, and it's not something I'll forget.

I think as writers, we need to be aware of the same sort of thing happening with our books. We don't want to present ourselves (or have our publishers present us) one way when our books are actually something else.

A lot of times this isn't the publisher's fault. Sometimes books are a hodge-podge mixture of different literary and genre elements and the poor cover artists just do the best they can in trying to create a cover.

But it was important to me to talk frankly with my editor in how I envisioned myself in the LDS market. I told him that I didn't want to be just "a Book of Mormon author." I didn't want to pigeonhole myself, because I wanted to be able to write romances in all sorts of different settings. I consider myself to be primarily a romance writer.

So that's how my publisher is positioning me, and hopefully once I shift from Book of Mormon romances to a romance set in another time period any readers that I've gained will follow.

I know that there's nothing that's going to irritate someone more than seeing an advertisement for a book that makes it sound like a suspense thriller, when in actuality it's a fantasy romance. You don't want to "Bridge to Terabithia" your potential readers.

What about you? Have you ever been sucked in and upset by something you considered to be false advertising?

Friday, February 23, 2007

New Contest! . . . Or a Pitiful Excuse for a Blog

by Kerry Blair

No excuses for today . . . but no blog, either.

Since our first "theme week" was so wildly popular (in that three people said they liked it) we're considering doing more. This contest, then, is to help us think of theme topics for upcoming months. Every topic suggestion counts as one entry. The winning entry will be drawn at random and announced next Friday. The prize is . . . um . . . any one of my books along with a Frog Fun Pack. (Or possibly a Fun Frog Pack. A Pack of Fun Frogs? One of those things.) Enter as many times as you wish, but you'll probably want to come up with fifty or so if you want to have any chance at all to beat Melanie. That woman is amazing.

More Hoydenish Antics

The second part of my interview is up over at the History Hoydens. It is a discussion of what the Maya considered beautiful and the great lengths they went to in order to achieve that beauty.

History Hoydens Part 2

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Live Like You Were Dying

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Two years ago I went through a difficult heart surgery. I was worried about it since there were some risks and there was a possibility that I could die. Among other preparations that my husband and I made before I went to the hospital, one of them was to get my will in order, including a living will, and I planned my funeral. A lot of people thought I was strange for doing it, but I like to think of it as being prepared, and it would be one less thing for my husband to think about during a difficult time.

I was discussing this with one of my friends earlier today and she said, "Wouldn't it be funny if there was a table at your funeral that said, here are all the things you never knew about Julie Bellon." The statement struck me. As a fairly private person, I think there are a lot of things people don't know about me. To have some things like that on display at my funeral might make an interesting table and for interesting comments. I wondered what people would say about me at my funeral. Usually everyone remembers all the good times. I mean, what would any of you say about me if you came to my funeral? Would it be funny? Nice? Would Rob be full of regrets for all the mean things he's said about me?

(My friend went on to suggest that I have some books at my funeral, sort of like a final book signing. I didn't know what to think about that, but it gave me a good chuckle. Like having that one last shameless marketing plug for my books. Hey, if an artist is dead usually his work climbs in value. Not so for authors. Sad, isn't it?)

As I've attended funerals in the past, I've listened to eulogies and remembrances and part of me wondered if the person who had died really knew how people felt about them. Before my surgery I wrote letters to all my children, making sure they knew exactly how I felt about them and what I wanted for them, and how proud I was of them. I wondered what they would say about me. If I had died, what kind of mother would they say I had been? What kind of friend had I been? Wife? Sister? Church member?

When I came through the surgery, I was so relieved and I really learned a few life lessons. It changed the way I live my life and I'm grateful for the two gifts that our Heavenly Father has given each of us. Free agency and Time. And it is up to us on how we use both of those gifts.

I heard a song on the radio that brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it and reminds me of how I felt then and now. It's called, "Live Like You Were Dying" and Tim McGraw sings it. While you read it, think about the message. And call the people you love today and tell them how much they mean to you. Don't wait for the eulogy at their funeral.

Here are the lyrics.

Live Like You Were Dying

He said I was in my early forties
with a lot of life before me,
when a moment came that stopped me on a dime
And I spent most of the next days
looking at the x-rays
Talking ‘bout the options
and talking ‘bout sweet time
I asked him when it sank in
that this might really be the real end
How's it hit you when you get that kinda news
Man what'd you do

and he said, I went sky diving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
and I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter
and I gave forgiveness I'd been denying
and he said someday I hope you get the chance
to live like you were dying.

He said I was finally the husband that most the time I wasn't
and I became a friend a friend would like to have
and all the sudden going fishin' wasn't such an imposition
and I went three times that year I lost my dad
well I finally read the good book
and I took a good long hard look
at what I'd do if I could do it all again

and then I went sky diving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
and I loved deeper
and I spoke sweeter
and I gave forgiveness I'd been denying
and he said someday I hope you get the chance
to live like you were dying.

Like tomorrow was a gift
and you got eternity to think about what'd you do with it
what did you do with it
what did I do with it
what would I do with it?

I went sky diving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
and I loved deeper
and I spoke sweeter
and I gave forgiveness I'd been denying
and he said someday I hope you get the chance
to live like you were dying.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Slipping Up

by Stephanie Black

There’s a good chance that Samuel the Lamanite took a prophetic peek into our household before he warned the Nephites that the day would come when “we lay a tool here, and on the morrow it is gone; and behold, our swords are taken from us in the day we have sought them for battle . . . for behold the land is cursed, and all things have become slippery, and we cannot hold them.” Amen, brother. Slippery items in our household include:

TV remotes
Fingernail clippers
The first-grader’s shoes
The toddler's shoes
Library books

I have taken some small steps to outwit the barbarians within my gates. It drives me crazy if I need to back up a file and I can’t find a memory stick, so I keep memory sticks buried in my clothing drawer. I keep the USB cord for my camera in another dresser drawer (the same drawer that holds my Jelly Belly stash). I put tape and glue in a box on a high shelf in my closet. That last one doesn’t stop the vandal hordes, but it does require that the smaller marauders stand on a chair before they can pillage and burn.

Unfortunately, my children aren’t the only ones who lose things. I lost my car on Saturday. This happened to me once before. We were living in Massachusetts and I’d taken my children to a neighboring city to listen to President Hinckley speak in a special regional fireside (my husband was on a business trip). After the fireside, I went where I thought I’d left my car, but I couldn’t find it. So I looked . . . and looked . . . and looked. It was insane. I scoured that parking garage, even checking out floors where I knew I hadn’t parked. The garage emptied out and I was still wandering in the wilderness. I was getting scared—what if our egg-shaped minivan had caught the eye of some family-oriented thief? A nice young family from Vermont took pity on me and gave me a ride around the garage as we searched. With the place about to close down for the night, we consulted a worker who suggested we look in a particular area and lo and behold—my car! It was the oddest thing. I could have sworn I’d searched the whole place a jillion times over, but somehow there was this little area that I’d missed. My Vermont friend and I embraced and she gave me cookies.

This past Saturday was a miniature case of déjà vu. I came out of the mall, headed to where I thought I'd parked my car and—no car. My thirteen-year-old and I did the search thing, where at first you hope nobody notices that you can’t find your car, you're just taking the scenic route around the parking lot, ha ha, but pretty soon you’ve been wandering around so long that it’s impossible to hide that fact that you’re auditioning for the Nincompoop Review. To make matters trickier, I needed to leave immediately to go pick my son up from baseball practice. Still carless after much searching, I started calling friends to see if someone could go pick up my son, but had no success. Fortunately, we did find the car and it was another of those “how the heck did I miss this part of the lot?” moments. I was twenty minutes late to baseball practice, but the coach was extremely nice and told me how he’d once lost his car at an Oakland A’s game. Then my neighbor told me how she lost her car while shopping—she was heading back inside to talk to store security, thinking it had been stolen, when she walked right past it. And my sister lost her Geo once, but she figured it hadn’t been stolen, since, well, it was a Geo. So I did feel better knowing this happens to other people too.

For the record, I do know where my keys are.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The One Wherein I Am Interviewed by History Hoydens

It's not nearly as salacious as it sounds. I belong to the Regency chapter of the RWA (an online group) and a friend of mine there invited me to be interviewed on a blog she's a member of - History Hoydens. You can see my interview here:

History Hoydens

I paid to see Wells, not some stand in hack...

Hello all, I'm Matthew Buckley. A couple of weeks ago, Rob asked me to fill in for him. I feel like a sixteen year old who has been given the keys to the family car.

I've been trying to come up with a worthy topic every since. I thought about talking politics, but that is so divisive. And besides, after listening to Rob over the past argue in favor of libertarianism, I'm completely sold on the party. There is nothing more to say on that subject.

And although I came up with a nice laundry list of possible topics, I finally settled on one that I swore I would never do. I wanted to talk just a bit about my second book.

No, this isn't a shameless plug, at least I don't want it to be. To prove it, I won't even tell you what the name of the book is. It's not the book itself that is interesting (ok, I think it's interesting, but I'm severely biased), rather it's how the book was written that is interesting. As far as I can tell, it's the first published book of it's kind.

If you've spent much time on the Internet lately, you'll likely have heard about wikis. A wiki is a web site that anybody can edit. You don't just read the page, you participate in it's building.

And while wikis are used for all sorts of really neat stuff, from encyclopedias, to keeping track of your favorite TV show, I've always thought a wiki would work great in writing fiction.

Think about it, nearly every other entertainment medium is a collaborative effort. A good movie requires a person (or several persons) to write the screenplay, somebody else to direct it, others to act in it, others to make the effects, others to edit it, etc. etc. etc. Television is the same way, even art is often designed by one person, and painted by several.

So that is where my second book comes in. I wrote my second book entirely in a wiki. I invited anyone and everyone to come and participate. Admittedly, there were only about 15 people who showed up and edited the site. But nearly all of the suggestions were good ones, and made the book better.

An example of how this collaboration works: There is a scene in the book that takes place in primary. A primary teacher wrote to me and told me that she is teaches primary, and thought that the reaction would be different from how I described it. After a bit of thought I realized she was right, and modified the book based on her suggestion. The end result being a better book.

Although I only had a few participants, my publisher is allowing me to put a link to the site in this book, and so the third (and likely final) Buckley book will hopefully have more folks involved.

So, if you'd like to get a jump on the project, here is your formal invitation. My third book is about Scouting. Everybody has a wild scouting story, why not share yours and get it in my book? As with the second book, anybody who helps edit, or contributes a story, gets a free book (assuming the book gets published). You can find the site by going to and clicking on the link 'third book'.

Should be fun.

He said She said

by Jeffrey S Savage

First let me just say what a kick it was to hear everyone’s valentine stories. I don’t need to see another chick flick for six months. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming, which for me is my creative writing class on dialog.

1 The first thing to consider is voice. What person will you be writing your story in?

First Person – I walk, we walk
Second Person – You walk, you walk
Third Person – he

I woke with a gasp to absolute darkness. Where was I? What was happening? My heart pounded in my chest, harder than the first time I met Bill. Feeling like I was suffocating, I reached out for the switch on her nightstand lamp and twisted so viciously it felt as if I’d ripped half the skin off my fingers. The master bedroom at the end of the double-wide trailer remained pitch black.

You woke with a gasp to absolute darkness and felt an instant wave of terror. You felt like you were suffocating. With a shaking hand, you reached out for the switch on her nightstand lamp, twisting it viciously enough to raise blood blisters on the tips of your fingers. The master bedroom at the end of the double-wide trailer remained pitch black.

Mandy Osgood woke with a gasp to absolute darkness. The kind of darkness that seemed to have a physical presence. She felt like she was suffocating. She reached out for the switch on her nightstand lamp, twisting it viciously enough to raise blood blisters on the tips of her work-calloused fingers. The master bedroom at the end of the double-wide trailer remained pitch black.

Use first person when you want the narrator to be an active character in the story. First person is skin tight. It allows you to comment directly to the reader. “I’ll take a bacon cheeseburger over a guy every time. A cheeseburger never makes false promises.”

We’ll either like you and root for you, or we’ll find you annoying (or even worse boring) and put down the book. Generally first person can not see anything they don’t personally experience, but some authors are combining first and third—or even first second and third. First person can give your reader the closest relationship with your protagonist.

Use third person when you do not want the narrator to be an active character or not a character at all. Third person allows you to see things the character does not. For example, you could say, “The construction workers gave Mandy the kind of looks a starving wolf gave a yearly lamb, but their looks went right by her.” It also allows you to put a spin on things which the character might not normally put. “The woman stared at six-year-old Timmy with a maternal longing.”

Don’t use second person in fiction unless you really know what you are doing. Or if you are Harlan Coban, James Patterson, etc. FYI a more common tool these days is to combine first person and third person, I am trying this with my new Shandra book, where the story is first person from Shandra’s point of view with occasional third person glimpses into the serial killer’s head. I read a Coban book recently that used 1st, 2nd, and third. Probably won a bet with that.

2 Know your character. It is imperative to make sure each character has a different voice from any other character. Even minor characters who may not even merit a description need a voice.

Understand that they will use a different tone or “voice” in different situations. Where they are. Who they are talking to. What they are trying to accomplish. Consider how differently you talk when speaking to your kids, your boss, your bishop, or your best friend.

3 Avoid using too many descriptive tags—she hissed, he whined, it growled. If you feel you need to use a descriptive tag, consider whether an action or expression could accomplish the same thing. Instead of, “Don’t hurt me,” he begged. Try, He dropped to his knees and covered his head with his hands. “Please . . . don’t hurt me.”

Also be aware of what a person can and can’t do. “‘Get away from me,’ he waved” is impossible. "Die,” he gargled is extremely difficult.

3 For the same reason as above, avoid too many descriptive adverbs. “I don’t like you,” she said irritably. Show instead of telling. She pushed her half-eaten eggplant across the table, threw her silverware into the sink, and glared at him. “I really don’t like you.”

4 Be clear on who is speaking. Don’t be afraid of using “said.” But if you have only two characters see if you can use other means to show ownership of dialog. Such as:

Fred walked to the window. “Looks like rain.”

“Who cares,” she said.

“That’s exactly the problem with you.”

She folded her arms across her chest and puffed her cigarette. “I’ll keep it in mind.”In William

Noble’s book, “Shut Up!,” He Explained, he offers these tips:

"He/she said" is the basic modifier, and it should be used three quarters of the time any modifier is used.

A page of dialog should not go by without a couple of "he/she saids."

When in doubt, leave the "said" out—add nothing.

In dialog between two people, use "he/she said" with only one of the characters—nothing with the other.

5 Treat your dialog like a ping pong match. Don’t make everything a direct response.
Dialog like this is boring.

“Get up.”

“Why? I’m tired.”

“Because you have to go to work.”

“If you don’t go to work, you’ll get fired.”

I read a recent section of fantasy dialog that went like this:

“Wake up sleepy head.”

“What time is it?” She rolled over on her straw mat, peeked open one eye, saw that it was barely light out, and pulled her pillow over her face.

“You have to get up early today.” Something tugged at a strand of her long dark hair.

“Stop that,” she said, waving a hand in the air above her head.

“Okay,” the voice called. “You asked for it.” All at once, a sharp beak closed on the tip of her big toe.

“Ouch!” Kyja shouted. She sat up to find a teal-blue reptilian face staring at her from the foot of her bed. Pointed leathery ears wagged back and forth as a pair of bulbous yellow eyes blinked owlishly open and closed.

“Let go, Riph Raph!” She shouted trying to pull her foot away without losing her toe.

“’ot un’ill you ‘romise ‘o ge’ up,” the skyte said around a mouthful of foot. It wrapped its scaly tail about its glistening blue body and flapped its small iridescent wings.

“I can’t understand a word you’re saying.” Kyja pulled her foot again.

Notice how few of the lines are actually direct answers to the previous line.

7 Avoid heavy dialect or oddball spellings. For example, instead of “Ah don’ know whut yer takin about.” which is annoying to the reader, use word choice and placement such as: “Four of us was down to the Piggly Wiggly when this fool begins to shooting off his mouth.” You get the same effect, but without the annoyance factor for the reader.

8 Do use internal monologue.

“Are you doing anything Friday night? he asked” It was about as lousy a pick line as they came, but he wasn’t exactly Mr. Suave.

She shot him a quick glance, before taking a sip of her martini. “You don’t come here often do you?”

“Obviously not often enough.” That was better. He might get a date out of this after all.

9 Keep punctuation inside the quotes.“Kill him!”“Who left the ear wax on the counter?”

10 Misc

Single Quotes: Use single quotation marks to indicate a quote inside of a quote.

Place a character’s name or pronoun first when writing a speech tag.

Don’t open a paragraph with a speech tag.

11 Read your dialog out loud or better yet have someone else read it for you.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Love in the MTC

By Sariah S. Wilson

If you’ve read my bio, you already know the basics of this story.

I met my husband my sophomore year of college. I worked at the Missionary Training Center and that year I was in the cafeteria. I was in charge of the silverware and the desserts. It was a fun time to be in the cafeteria--all of my male friends from my freshman year were now in the MTC and I was their favorite person as I could sneak contraband (i.e., Doritos and Ding-Dongs) in for them. Not that I did, mind you. That would be bad. Bad!

So I had a lot of people to write to because I strengthened many friendships while working there. Plus at the Y, it was always nice to have missionaries to write to, because then you didn’t seem so pathetic if you didn’t have a boyfriend. “Oh, I’m writing a missionary.”

I worked next to a girl named Elizabeth, and we had worked together at the MTC since our freshman year. I knew her well. She also had lots of friends there, including my future husband. They had gone to Israel in the same group for BYU Study Abroad, and you know how those Study Abroad people are. Friends for life. So he would come and talk to her every day and as I was in close proximity to her, he began talking to me too.

There was no instant love on my side. I thought he was kind of a dork. He wore these big, yellow, square glasses that apparently got darker when he went outside (guess the first thing I changed when we started dating). He was tall, which was nice (I’m 6’0” myself so tallness is always appreciated). But we hit it off in a friendly sort of way and he asked me if I would write to him. I told him I would--even more letters for me, right?

Now, I have no recollection of this (and neither does the husband), but my mother swears that he told me, “Now, don’t you get married before I get home.”

I didn’t wait for him. I didn’t wait for anyone. I just happened to be single when he got back. But the summer before he returned, my family was in the process of moving here to Ohio and I spent my time hanging out with the LDS boys who worked for pest control companies that lived in the same apartment complex that I did. I didn’t write him for the last four months or so of his mission.

When I returned to the Y that fall, I realized that Elder Wilson should be home soon, but I didn’t have any details as I had slacked off in my letter writing. I arrogantly thought that he would be sure to find a way to contact me. He didn’t.

My pride being thus injured, I went back through his letters and found his home address that he had once given to me. You can imagine my surprise when I went looking for his house, and said home was up on The Bench in Provo (near the big white Y). Anyone from Provo knows the kind of house I’m talking about. (The first time he took me on a tour of his house I freaked out that he had a drinking fountain in the hallway downstairs. I tried to explain to him that this was not ordinary. People didn’t have drinking fountains in their homes. He couldn’t understand my confusion. Fortunately, our son had a similar reaction last December. “Grandma has a drinking fountain! What?” That and he had a basketball court in his basement. Very much beyond my comprehension.) Someone entering the home stared at me and my roommate as we sat in her car, our mouths hanging open, me feeling totally intimidated.

We sped off, but I decided to return later because I really was miffed that he hadn’t tried to find me. When I knocked on his door, someone our age answered. I told him why I was there and the guy invited me in. He told me he and my husband’s other friends were throwing him a welcome home party and said I should stick around. So there I am in this house surrounded by people I don’t know. Awkward didn’t begin to cover it. I started thinking I should just leave.

My husband arrived with even more people and it was a good ten minutes before I could get close enough to the social flutter-by to say hello. He looked very different--much better looking than I remembered--gorgeous blue eyes, beautiful smile. Very handsome. I handed him a paper with my name and phone number, welcome home, that sort of thing. We chatted for a while until I got sick of everyone staring at us and decided to go. He walked me out to my car and later told me that he hadn’t realized who I was until I drove away. Apparently he didn’t recognize me without my MTC cafeteria uniform on.

He called me two days later. I still wasn’t all that interested, but agreed to go out. I remember telling my roommates that it would just be a one-time thing, that I felt obligated to go.

Then the night before our date he called me to chat. We chatted--clear up until 6:00 the next morning (which made me fall asleep during our first date, but that’s another story). It was then that I started thinking, “Huh. I could really like this guy.”

And really like him I did. We didn’t have the easiest courtship (and there is such a story there, one that I probably can’t share--suffice it to say that there were outside forces who did everything in their power to keep us from getting married--it was all very soap operaish) but we knew it was right and we got sealed for time and all eternity in the Salt Lake Temple.

Friday, February 16, 2007

How the Chess Champion Met His Match -- I Mean Mate

by Kerry Blair

My husband never had a chance.

Gary and I attended the same high school back when there were 3 billion fewer people in the world. I know this fascinating census tidbit because “population explosion” was the “inconvenient truth” of the 1970s. The dinosaurs had recently become extinct and some scientists – or were they politicians? – predicted we would be next if we didn’t stop multiplying and replenishing. Nevertheless, people all over the earth – many in my own hometown – continued to throw caution to the wind, stubbornly marrying and being given in marriage despite the dire warnings of disaster-to-come. This, of course, brings me to the thesis of this blog – courtship and marriage. (Right? My mind, sadly, is now almost as useful as my pet rock and flowered bellbottoms.)

As I was about to say before I was distracted by global warming (or something), I knew Gary Blair in high school. He was, frankly, the stereotypical boy-next-door. If you’ve ever seen Happy Days think Richie Cunningham and you’ll have Gary pegged. Since I had a thing for Ron Howard way back in the Opie-era, I might have thrown myself at Gary a half-decade sooner except for three things:
• He was president of the . . . shiver . . . chess club.
• He was . . . shudder . . . LDS.
(Unlike my best friend, I didn’t truly believe Mormons had cloven hooves
under their gym socks, but I did believe they were kind of cliquish
and maybe a little holier-than-thou.)
• I was already going with a guy.

The guy I went with was more like the Fonz, but without the leather jacket, motorcycle, and modesty. Still, he was handsome, smart, funny (in a cynical, acerbic kind of way,) and he drove a sports car. What more could one want in a future mate? Besides, marriage wasn’t a big deal. You got married if you happened to feel like it and hung around as long as it was still fun and/or convenient. (The Family: A Proclamation to the World had not yet been written; and if it had been, my family wouldn’t have owned a copy.)

Then it happened. Two know-it-alls in white shirts and conservative ties came along, and the next thing I knew marriage wasn’t something that lasted until you turned thirty. Heck, it didn’t even end at death. It went on forever. (And ever. And ever.) Although I tried to hang in – for almost a year, in fact – I soon began to realize that my steady and I went together about as well as oil and vinegar. (Didn’t I tell you Mormons are cliquish? I think it must have something to do with the font water.) Contemplating home and family – and that simply terrifying eternity clause – I knew I wanted oil, preferably of the consecrated variety.

About that time Gary came home from a mission. Since I was in the clique now (and a natural when it came to holier-than-thou attitudes) he asked me out. We dated a couple of times and then worked together running stage lightning at the fairgrounds. Gary was just as cute and wholesome as ever, but he was also something more. He was a righteous man of God who I admired tremendously. I hadn’t, however, broken up with my longtime boyfriend for good. (All kinds of good as it turned out.) In fact, on the last night Gary and I were to work together, I’d spent the day at the lake with the other guy. As usual, we debated marriage. When he finally dropped me off at the fairgrounds, Gary was just getting out of his car across the lot. My boyfriend said sarcastically, “If you really want everything you say you do, why don’t you marry Gary Blair?”

I slammed the convertible's door hard enough to rattle his teeth and yelled, “You know what? I think I will!”

I did in fact. Ten months later (it took Gary that long to admit resistance was futile) we were married for time and all eternity in the Mesa Arizona Temple. Since the sealer assured us that earth-replenishing was still a good thing, we did that too.

I told you the poor guy never had a chance.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Where Dreams Really Do Come True

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I was thrilled to be accepted to BYU, but I began to wonder if it had been a mistake to come when I spent my first full day sorting out a mix-up with my dorm housing and then trying to find myself an apartment. I ended up looking at an off-campus apartment and it seemed nice so I took over the contract. The next day, one of my new roommates took me to the BEST department store to buy myself some sheets and other essentials. She seemed excited to introduce me to a guy she knew that worked there named Brian. Apparently they were friends as Brian had recently been dating her old roommate---the girl whose contract I had taken over. We went in and she introduced us. He said hello and then proceeded to talk to her, effectively ignoring me for the rest of the time I was there. I thought he was cute but a little snooty. It didn't matter. I was waiting for a missionary that was coming home the next June. (Brian claimed later he was tongue-tied because I was so beautiful.)

Since Brian and I were in the same singles ward, I saw him at ward functions and dances. He was pretty popular with the ladies and he chatted with me a few times, but that was about it. Frankly I was having such a good time dating and dancing and just being at BYU, I didn't think too much about it. That December, I'd decided to go to Greece for my Christmas holidays, but I was nervous about a few things happening in my life right then, so I asked my roommates who would be a good guy to ask for a blessing. They suggested Brian as he was one of the most spiritual men in the ward. So I got a blessing from him and I was once again struck by the fact that he was good-looking and spiritual. But again, I didn't think too much about it because I was leaving for Greece and having a lot of fun at BYU.

When I came home from Greece, I went back to school and then I got pneumonia. A bad case of it. It looked like I was going to have to go home it was so bad. But then my hero stepped in. Brian went to my professors and got my homework. He brought me videos to watch and made me dinners. We laughed and had a lot of fun together, and he even helped me with my Cha-Cha for my social dance class. I got better (both from the pneumonia and at the Cha-Cha) and we spent a lot of time together, but he never asked me out. I didn't mind because I was waiting for a missionary and Brian and I were just friends. He supposedly had told other people that he would never date anyone from that apartment again because it had ended badly with the girl I had taken the contract over from. Again, I was having such a fun time dating and going to dances, I didn't mind. I just counted him as a really great friend.

Then our singles ward went to Disneyland for Spring Break.

I was in Brian's car with him and his roommate Dan, and five other girls. Yep. FIVE other girls. In a station wagon. And one of the girls was the one Brian had told me he liked. But it was on that trip that I started to see Brian in a different light. Maybe it was the Goofy hat he wore all over Disneyland. Or maybe it was the way he held my hand on the Jungle Cruise. Or how he asked my opinion on which Mexican blanket he should buy in Tijuana. I was starting to really like him. We had spent so much time together, he had become one of my best friends. But we hadn't dated and I didn't know how he really felt about me. I mean, he actually held my hand (sort of behind his back) while he was rubbing the other girl's back that he'd told me he liked. What's a girl to think? (He says now he was keeping his options open. Yeah right!)

We came home from Disneyland and a week later, on Mother's Day, Brian and I were sitting on the couch in my apartment. He looked over at me and suddenly said, "Will you marry me in August?" I was stunned. We hadn't dated, we hadn't said we loved each other, nothing. So my response was, "What?" And he repeated it, but this time he kissed me. And I said yes.

Some people were worried for us. They thought maybe we hadn't known each other long enough or that we didn't know each other well enough. But what they didn't realize was how deep a friendship we had cultivated long before our engagement. The dating part just came after the ring, that's all. And we did get married in the Jordan River Temple that August.

So here we are eighteen years later and six kids better, we've built upon that strong foundation, and I'm still married to the most romantic man on the planet. (And yes, we never miss our weekly date as a married couple since we didn't do that before marriage!) We just seem to be so in tune with each other and we make a great team. But my definition of love and romance has changed. Don't get me wrong. I still love to get love poems, flowers, and surprises, but it's different now. When I'm having a tough day and Brian comes home from work and does the dishes or starts a dinner for me, it's a romantic gesture and I know it's because he loves me. When he lets me sleep late on Saturday and makes my favorite breakfast, *sigh* I know it's because he loves me. When he worked it out with his boss to come in early so he could come home early and be with the kids while I finished my university degree, I knew it was because he loved me. It's swoon-worthy and romantic to me and it makes my heart overflow with gratitude for him. I count myself lucky to have him for an eternal companion, just because of who he is. One of the sweetest memories I have is when he got up with the screaming baby one night and pretty soon all was quiet. I got up to check on them and found them both snuggled on our couch fast asleep. It was a moment in time I will never forget, looking at two people I loved more than life itself on that couch and knowing my life would never be the same without them.

So in my case, you definitely could say Disneyland is the place where dreams really do come true. I know mine did.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Tale of Love and Vehicles

by Stephanie Black

In honor of Hallmark and roses and chocolates and things, here’s my how-I-met-my-husband story.

When I started my second year at BYU, my cousin, Darrin, had just returned from his mission. Darrin is one of the nicest and wittiest guys on the planet, and my sister and I were excited to have him at BYU. (And the thought did cross our minds that having a male cousin nearby could be a very good thing, since male cousins have male friends).

When we went to Darrin’s apartment to say howdy, he wasn’t home, so we left him a note telling him his gorgeous cousins had stopped by. (Okay, so maybe we fudged a bit on the gorgeous part. Chalk it up to too much self-esteem, or maybe wishful thinking). Darrin called us and we arranged to meet at the Wilkinson Center.

At this fateful meeting, Darrin brought his roommate along. Who could resist the chance to meet the self-proclaimed Gorgeous Cousins? Brian was from Rochester, New York, had roomed with Darrin freshman year, and had recently returned from his mission. He was also the proud owner of a new pair of socks. This was in the days when male students were required to wear socks and Brian had—oops—come to campus sans appropriate footwear. In order to get his ID card, he had to make a quick stop at the BYU Bookstore. I soon discovered that, besides being handsome and well-supplied with socks, Brian was also brilliant, funny, witty, kind, and everything else wonderful.

In those early days before classes started, my sister, my cousin, Brian and I liked to have fun together. Not many weeks passed before Brian and I started dating, and the rest is history. We got engaged in March and were married in the Salt Lake Temple in August. But within hours following the wedding, we found that one thing we’d taken for granted in the naïve, love-struck days of our courtship was soon to disappear from our lives.

A working vehicle.

The car trouble began after our wedding reception. The key to the trunk of Brian’s ancient Audi fell off the ring while he was loading his suitcase. His key got locked in the trunk. There was no spare key and no way to access the trunk from inside the car. Thank heavens my suitcase wasn’t in there yet, but Brian had to make do with the clothes he’d left at his grandmother’s (where he’d been staying) until we could get the car to a key shop the next day. We spent a good chunk of our first day of married life at a locksmith’s while they got the trunk opened for us. It was very romantic. Or something.

With the trunk problem fixed, we headed toward Springdale (near Zion’s National Park) where we would be staying in a condo. Partway there, our Audi started doing some terrible car thing and we had to stop in Nephi to get a hose replaced. While we waited at the garage, I looked with interest at the Hostess Fruit Pies for sale, but told myself no, don’t buy one, we’ll be eating dinner when we arrive at our destination.

I should have gone for the fruit pie. We got the car fixed, but not much farther down the road, the car started spewing white smoke. Apparently white smoke coming from a car is double-plus ungood. We pulled off I-15 and called a tow truck from a rest stop. The tow truck took us into the quiet little town of Parowan and dropped us at a motel. We’d had no dinner, it was midnight, and not even the vending machines had anything good to offer.

The next morning, we called Brian’s parents to come rescue us. Yes, folks, we had to call my husband’s parents to come pick us up while we were on our honeymoon. They were headed in our direction anyway, en route to an open house at my parents’ home in Southern Utah. The open house went well, my parents lent us a car for our honeymoon, we got a nail in the tire of that car and had to get it fixed; they gave us another car for the drive back to Provo and we blew a tire on the freeway on that one. But we were young and in love and the birdies were singing and all that.

Now, seventeen and a half years later, we’re still young and in love and we have two working cars, though come to think of it, my minivan needs new tires.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Long Story With a Happy Ending

by Jeffrey S Savage

Okay, so once again I find myself posting late, and this time I don’t even have the internet to blame. But I will blame Sariah, she of the Monday morning suggestion that we all blog about our true loves in honor of Valentines Day (or as my six-year-old would say Valentimes Day.)

See, here is the thing. My wonderful, adorable, amazing, incredible, smart, attractive (did I get them all, Hon?) oh right, talented, wife and I have been married for twenty years. Considering I couldn’t get a date for the first half of my high school years, and she had guys flocking to her, I consider this quite an accomplishment. But the story of how I actually managed to get her is very, very long and much more time consuming to write than the creative writing lesson I was planning to drop in almost verbatim.

It’s taken me awhile to get it done. That and I got caught up in this cool episode of CSI Miami last night. Fair warning, it is really long, so read at your risk.

Here goes:

It all started on a crisp Halloween night in Roseville, Ca. (Just up a piece from Sacramento.) My drop dead gorgeous social butterfly of a cousin, Denise, invited me to a Stake Halloween party. Normally I tried to avoid these types of things, but Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. Being short on cash, we went for the “Unknown Cousins” costume by wearing matching blue sweatshirts, and paper bags over our heads ala “The Unknown Comic.” Remember him? I guess he didn’t age so well or something.

Once at the party I was introduced to this really good looking blonde in a cheerleader costume. (If this blog were just for guys, I could stop right here. The guys would all nod their heads going, “yep, yep, blonde in a cheerleader outfit. Say no more,” and we’d all go back to talking about sports or politics. Or maybe good looking blondes.)

But for the rest of you ladies, let me just say I was smitten. It wasn’t just the outfit or the long legs. She actually liked my jokes—which makes her one in a million right there, she was smart, and she didn’t run screaming when I finally took off the bag. In fact somehow she ended up sitting on my knee by the end of the night. I was twenty-two at this point—having recently returned from my mission in Utah—and she was twenty.

After the party, I asked my cousin for all the details. She told me that Jennifer Apsley had been dating a guy for the previous two years—crap, crap, crap—but they had recently broken up—whoo hoo! Now here is the strange thing. I was always on the lookout for cute blondes with long legs, but as I recall, I wasn’t actively looking for a wife. But for some reason when I prayed that night I found myself asking if this girl who I had met exactly once, was the girl I was supposed to marry. And the answer was a resounding yes.

So—not being one to let funny, attractive, smart women sit idly about—the next day I called to ask her out. Now up to this point things had gone rather smoothly. I’d like to say we went on several whirlwind dates and the next thing I knew I was standing on the steps of the Oakland Temple with a ring and a wife. But somehow Heavenly Father never lets me get the things I want most, easily, and Jennifer was no exception.

The way I remember it, our conversation went something like this.

“Hi, Jennifer? This is Jeff. I, um, don’t know if you remember me from the Halloween party?” I’m looking for a little positive affirmation here. Something like, Of course, you were the really funny guy with the witty costume.

“I remember.”

Aa-n-n-n-d? You’re not going to give me anything are you? “Right. Well I was wondering if you’re not doing anything if you might like to go out tonight?” A pretty freaking amazing line if I do say so myself.

“I’d like to, but my family is going out for my dad’s birthday.”

Okay, okay. Don’t worry. It’s her dad’s birthday. It’s not like she’s blowing you off with some phony line. “Well, tell him happy birthday for me. Ha. Ha. What about Saturday?”

“I’m sorry. I’m watching videos with the primary girls I teach.”

Primary girls. Right. Well, I wouldn’t want to intrude on that. I mean, I’d like to, but . . . “Well what about Sunday?” I am not desperate. I am not desperate.

She offered another reason why she couldn’t go out on Sunday, but by now it was all sounding like, “Blah, blah, blah, no, blah, blah, no, blah, no.”

By this point I’ve forgotten all about my prayer and I’m just trying to figure out a way to get off the phone with at least a shred of dignity intact. “If you don’t want to go out that’s okay.” Smo-o-o-oth.

“No. I do want to go out. I just need to check my calendar.” Okay that was my first mistake. I tried to ask out a girl with a calendar.

“You um, want to call me back then?”


So a year passed and I just about decided she wasn’t going to call back, when unexpectedly the phone rang. Turns out it wasn't Jennifer, but instead a very nice woman who wanted me to switch my long distance.

Of course, Jennifer and I had run into each other occasionally. I worked as a newspaper circulation manager and her younger brothers were a couple of my carriers. I’d try to see her when I dropped by, and my visits went something like this:

Jen answers the door. “Hello?” Doing a great job of hiding the strong feelings she has for me.

“Hi. Are your brothers home?” She wants me. I can tell these things.

“Sure.” She leaves and that’s the last I see of her.

Over the last twelve months we had both changed though. She’d dated about twenty guys, been proposed to numerous times by numerous guys, and gone to care for her grandmother for a month—during which time she of course met other guys.

I had gone through basic training and AIT for the Army Reserves, where I also met lots of guys.
Denise, my afore mentioned cousin, had gotten married and I was at her reception. Actually, I didn’t spend much time at the reception. She somehow lost her garter and I was sent on a wild chase to find a new one. Where does a twenty-three year-old guy go to find a garter? Long story. But as I was coming back, I noticed two attractive blondes on their way out.

Now I should probably point out here that six months in the army had changed my looks just a little. My longish hair was now a slightly grown out buzz cut, my moustache was gone, I was well tanned, and pretty buff if I do say so myself. In fact, most of my old friends (including girls I’d dated) didn’t even recognize me.

When I realized one of the two girls was Jennifer, I thought I would have a little fun with her.

Knowing she wouldn’t recognize me, I said, “Hi Jennifer.”

She turned and without a blink, smiled and said, “Hi Jeff.”

Her cute friend looked at me and said, “Why haven’t you introduced me to this one?”

Jennifer said, “I’ll tell you later.” And they both waved goodbye.

The next couple of months were very much like this. One minute Jen would seem really interested in me; like the time at the dance where she held my hand after a slow song and said, “Find me again.” Then she’d turn a complete 180 degrees, like when I went to look for her a couple of songs later and she was off in the corner of the gym dancing with another guy.

Meanwhile, I made a strong impression on her by doing things like running into doors when I was around her and responding to her angora sweater by telling her my sweater was made of German Shepherd.

It all finally came to a head on the last institute class of the year. It was the beginning of Christmas break and I only went to the class in hopes of seeing two girls. When class started neither of them had come and I was wishing I hadn’t either. Then, five minutes into class the first girl showed up—with a guy. Not good. But a few minutes later, I felt a finger run across my back and I turned to see that Jennifer had come into the room. Things were looking up.

Thinking ahead, I had made sure to leave an open seat beside me. And of course Jennifer came and sat next to me. Or so I thought. I kept waiting for her to come sit by me. I mean she’d just run her finger across my back. You don’t run your finger across a guy’s back and not sit by him right? Only when I looked to see where she’d gone, she was sitting by another guy!

Now I consider myself a patient person. (Or maybe I’m just slow.) But I had finally realized I was never going to go out with Jennifer. Nor did I want to. She was a complete flake. A flirt with no conscious. And a troublemaker to boot. Did I really want to spend the rest of my life running into doors?

So as soon as the class ended, I bolted out the door. And that would have been the end of it if not for two things. Funny how the smallest things can change your life. The first thing was that I stopped to get a drink of water. The second thing was that after a year of blowing me off, Jen suddenly was struck with a very clear message to pick up everything she had and race out the door after me.

This created one of those scenes you usually see in romantic comedies—one which we’d both like to watch over and over on the Life Videotape in the hereafter. As I finished getting my drink and straightened up, she came rushing through the door carrying gloves, coat, scarf, scriptures, books, etc. We didn’t quite collide with each other, but she abruptly stopped and all of her things went flying across the hall.

At this point I wanted nothing to do with her. Of course I helped her pick up her things as she blushed furiously. But as soon as I did, I was on my way down the hall. Except she wouldn’t go away and leave me alone. She just kept following me.

Her. “Next week’s my birthday.”

Me. “Hmm. How ‘bout that.”

Her. Smiling expectantly. “Un huh.”

Me. Wanting to get away and leave this crazy girl behind. “Great. Maybe we’ll do something.”

Her “Okay. When? My family’s doing something tomorrow, but we could go out on Saturday.”

Me “Yeah. Okay, well I’ll call you or something.”

Her “Okay. Great. So Saturday?”

By this point another guy comes out the door and says, “Hey, Jennifer isn’t it your birthday next week?”

Here we go again, I think, and try to make my getaway. Only we’re like a three person train. I’m walking away. She’s following me. And he’s following her. Finally she asks me if I’ll carry her books to her car. I’ll do anything to get away. But the other guy says, “I can carry them.”

Now I don’t want anything to do with her. But I’ll be darned if I’ll let some geeky commodore computer programmer carry her books, so I take them first. He follows her out to the car, trying to ask her out, and finally settled for opening her car door.

I guess Heavenly Father figured he’d put me through enough, because the rest is a pretty short story. We dated thirteen straight days and on New Years Day I asked her to marry me. Oddly enough she said yes, providing the final answer to my prayer. The next thing I knew, it was April 16th, and I was standing on the steps of the Oakland Temple with a ring and a wife.

After twenty years I still run into doors around her. And she still wears cheerleader outfits. (Okay that second part isn’t real, but a guy can hope right?) And I’m really glad I stopped to get a drink.

I love you, Sweetheart.

Roses Are Red, Violet's are Blue, Let's Get Married Really Fast

A tale of romance and seduction by Robison Wells

My wife (Erin) and I went to high school together, in the sense that we were there at the same time. We did not go to high school together in the sense that we knew each other in the least, or dated, or asked each other to the Sock Hop. Now, I know what you're saying: "But Rob, you were the Most Beloved student in your class. How was it that there was a girl in the school who not only did not know who you were, but also didn't throw herself at you?" Answer: Erin's three years older than me, so it would have been a senior throwing herself at a freshman. Also: while I was the Most Beloved student in school (a self-granted title) girls did not routinely throw themselves at me. Perhaps they were intimidated by my zitty face and 1972 Chevy Impala.

Anyway, Erin was the cousin of one of my best friends (Micah) and I vaguely remember Erin hanging out at his house once in a while. She was usually in the front room, sitting on the couch with a gaggle of other female relatives, and I'd hurry past them to get to Micah's basement where the rootbeer flowed like water and there was always basketball on TV. Yes, for years rootbeer and basketball trumped my wife. But by then I was still only eighteen and she was twenty one, and college juniors (female) don't date high school seniors (male), no matter how Beloved they may be.

I went on my mission and she never wrote me, but that's okay because I never wrote her, and I doubt at that point that I even knew her name, or thought of her once in the entire two years. (Cause I was too busy thinking about faith, repentance, and Three Nephites folklore.)

Cut to Thanksgiving after my mission: I'd been home for about eight months, and it was a tradition in Micah's family to play football at the local elementary school. I'd attended this for several years, but Erin apparently never had.

Now, the way that Erin tells the story is that she intercepted two passes that were intended for me. The way I tell the story involves changing the subject and--hey! Look at that over there!

So, I asked Micah if Erin (his cousin) would like to go out with me. This is because I was still in the seventh grade. So he asked her, and she said something to the effect of "Is he in the seventh grade? Tell him to ask me himself!" So, I did, and the rest, as they say, was a really crappy first date. Yes, it was lousy, exacerbated partly by the fact that it was a group activity which allowed for virtually no conversation between she and I, and partly by the fact that I had to cut it short so I could buy a banana cream pie for another girl. So... yeah.

If our courtship were a romantic comedy, the next two weeks would be summed up in a musical montage wherein Erin and I separately walked in the rain, looked lonely, and listened to sad pop songs.

Fortunately, after a bad date and two weeks of non-contact, I asked her out again. We got engaged two days after Christmas. We were married on St. Patrick's Day. Get out your calculators! Result: 81 days, start to finish. Hi! I'm from Utah!

We've had seven years of wedded bliss, and our relationship is superior to yours in every way possible. And she's thirty already, and I'm not. Ha ha!

(Dear Readers: I'm going to be out of town next week. The dang CIA keeps pulling me back in for "just one more mission". I swear, I'm getting so sick of those guys. Anyway, in my absence Matthew Buckley, author of the upcoming novel Bullies Don't Have Armpits, will be guest blogging. Tune in next Tuesday!)

Happy Valentine's Week!

Welcome to the Valentine's Day Theme Week! This week we authors will tell love stories and spew romance--each with our own unique twist! For example, Jeff Savage will augment his love story with his own brand of horror. Kerry's story will be touching and funny and put the rest of us to shame. Julie's from Canada, so her tale will undoubtedly involve Eskimo kissing (or Eskimos kissing). Sariah Wilson is currently pregnant, so you know she's got some good stories. And Stephanie Black lives in San Francisco, so she's our diversity requirement.

Anyway, grab your hankies and put some Johnny Mathis on the turntable. Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Frog Spotted in Cincinnati...

by Sariah S. Wilson

More specifically, he hopped over to visit me this afternoon at the Barnes and Noble in West Chester for the Reader Appreciation Day.

Here we have two customers who bought copies of Secrets in Zarahemla. They are also known as two of my sisters. Sisters who I made stay to keep me company. (You can also see me in the bottom left corner.)

This was my first booksigning, and it was a bit nerve wracking. This was not helped by where I was placed. I was seated next to Jennifer Crusie, which may not mean much to non-romance readers, but Crusie is like a romance rock star. Not only does she have fervent fans, she has fans who have named themselves The Cherries, and often have accompanying cherry paraphernalia.

So there I sat, facing a sea of Cherries who all waited anxiously for Crusie to appear. I thought it might be semi-humiliating to sit there while Crusie signed book after book and I, you know, didn't, but I instead decided to find a silver lining in my situation and take the opportunity to watch a master at work and to listen to how she interacted with her fans.

But until Crusie showed up, I made my sisters stay and talk to me just so that I didn't have to sit and stare. Because the only people here in Ohio that my book would appeal to are 1) my family and 2) members of my ward (and it should be noted that my family comprises half of said ward). The Frog kept me company too.

But unfortunately for The Cherries (and for me as I was looking forward to gaining some signing wisdom), Crusie didn't make it. She pulled out of her driveway and into a ditch, and had to wait for a tow truck to pull it out, and said tow truck had to wait for a snow plow to clear a path for the tow truck to get to her car. She didn't make it to the signing, and many fans waited almost an hour before it was announced that she wouldn't be able to come (which made me wish I had fans who would wait an hour to see me). But Crusie graciously offered to come the next Saturday and sign books for all those Cherries who missed her.

And speaking of signings...while it's easy enough to write out things to those you love/know well, what in the world are you supposed to say in an inscription to acquaintances or people you've never met? I found myself struggling several times today on what I should say, so for those veteran book signers out there, what do you say when you sign books? Or for those who have acquired signatures from authors, what sorts of things have authors written to you that you liked?

Friday, February 09, 2007

True Love is Like a Ghost

by Kerry Blair

The tag line of my new book is: True love is like a ghost. Many people believe in both, but few find either. I don’t remember where I first read that line, but I believe it.

For the record, I do not drag my husband to cemeteries to hunt for ghosts. (Although graveyards are the most common site for portal hauntings; more about that in a later blog.) We went to the cemetery because I thought a graveyard would be a unique place to take a picture for my web site and the old Citizen’s Cemetery in my hometown has long been one of my favorites. (Everybody has a favorite graveyard, right?) Buried therein are the remains of men who served as Rough Riders with Teddy Roosevelt, and women who served . . . um, something . . . in the Bird Cage saloon on Whiskey Row back when Doc Holladay was a drop in.

It was a great place for a photo shoot. Unfortunately, the cemetery’s high, wrought iron gates are closed and locked at dusk. In order to sneak in, we had to park in one of the less-desirable parts of town and ignore the drunken party that was going on nearby. (We also said a quick prayer that our hubcaps – and the car to which they were attached – would still be there when we returned.) We then lowered ourselves over a rock wall and into the graveyard. Thanks to the miracle of gravity, this wasn’t too difficult, even for a pudgy, middle-aged novelist and her CPA husband.

For about an hour, I led my eternal companion from one old sepulchre to the next (and the next and the next and the next) in search of the perfect spot in which to be photographed. While I graciously carried the compact digital camera, he carried my 50-lb antique typewriter. It was cold, dark, and suitably spooky, even for me.

By the time we had enough pictures to make me happy, we’d attracted the attention of several drunks and one police officer – but no ghosts. (Nor did an orb show up on our pictures, darn it.) My husband boosted me back over the wall, handed up the typewriter, considered the wall’s height and his blood pressure, and then sat down to wait for the cemetery’s gate to open or for heaven’s trump to sound, whichever came first. No, seriously, he scaled a crumbling pile of rocks and loose mortar that would have given Spider-Man second thoughts.

I probably don’t have to tell you that Gary would have rather been home watching football and rooting for ASU. (Heck, he’d have rather been at a dentist’s office having a root canal.) Nor do I need to tell you that I’ve found true love. You can judge that for yourself.

(PS - If you're thinking you've read this someplace else -- say on my web site -- give me a break. I'm too sick to sick up, let alone blog. I wanted to steal something from Rob's site, but I figured he'd sue me.)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Is It MY Turn Yet?

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I have spent the better part of every day this week either in a hospital emergency room, doctor's office, or veterinarian's office. I'm actually writing this from a doctor's office because I don't seem to be able to get anywhere near my home computer these days.

The streak of bad luck began Saturday afternoon when my son was fouled so hard at a basketball game that when he put his hands down to catch himself, the bones in his wrist buckled. After that, each child seemed to take their turn this week, and the streak seemingly ended when I had to take my dog to the veterinarian because she tore the ligaments in her knee. (Did you know dog knees are built the same as human knees? You can actually do knee surgery on a dog!)

The point is, I've spent a lot of time in waiting rooms this week. I hate waiting rooms. In my first book, Through Love's Trials, the main character, Kenneth, talks about how much he hates to wait and how much he particularly hates waiting rooms. That was based totally on me. Yet after spending so much time waiting in waiting rooms the last few days I've noticed a few things.

Almost all the waiting rooms I've been in have a fish tank in them. Why is that? Is it supposed to be soothing? Is it a statement on the effectiveness of the doctor that they can keep fish alive so you'll be okay too?

There are no clocks in waiting rooms. Is that because they don't want you to know how long you've actually been in there? Perhaps they just want to play with your mind and see if you kept track of who came in after you so they can get a good laugh when you get mad that they took that guy first before you.

Waiting rooms have a wall of pamphlets that describe a whole bunch of diseases. I don't recommend reading them because you may start to feel those symptoms you read about and become convinced that you actually DO have Denghe fever.

I noticed that there are lots of chatty, nosy people in waiting rooms who are all dying to tell you what's wrong with them whether you want to hear it or not. And they always have something worse than what you have.

I learned that the stairs and elevators on the ground level of my local hospital are locked down after ten p.m. We actually had to have an elevator sent down for us.

I learned that small children are very curious about how a dog's temperature is taken and are very willing to discuss in minute detail with strangers and neighbors as to how the procedure is done.

I've learned about myself in waiting rooms. As my son's arm was being casted, the young woman who was doing it remarked that it looked like we'd been with our pediatrician a long time. We've actually been with Dr. Jones for seventeen years, from the moment I became a mother. When I was a new mom, I took my two week old baby in on a Friday afternoon because he had a cold and I was nervous. He prescribed some treatment and sent me home. On Sunday evening, Dr. Jones, who is one of the busiest doctors I know, called me to make sure the baby and I were all right. He won my loyalty that night not only because he's an amazing doctor, but because he cares about his patients in such a way it makes you feel like you are important and you matter to him. It's still that way to this day.

Which brings me to the last thing I noticed about waiting rooms this week. There were a lot of caring medical personnel who took care of us during some stressful circumstances and for that I am eternally grateful.

Well, they're calling our name finally. Hooray!!! The wait is OVER! Gotta go . . .

(I may really have Denghe fever. If I do not post next week, you will know why. Oh, and somebody be sure to tell the woman next to me that I've never seen anyone else have a fast growing bone infection cut out of their leg in an office. Sounds cool though.)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Use It or Lose It

by Stephanie Black

Today while I was driving my daughter to school, she was musing about her AP History class. “Now, Ackbar was a Mughal, right?” she said. “I thought he was the admiral from Return of the Jedi,” I said. She then started rambling about Ottomans. I thought of furniture. I was a dang good student when I was in school several eons ago, but man alive, I’ve lost it all. Can’t remember a thing. Of course, even my agile-brained young high-schooler can’t always come up with the right bit of information at the right time. In one of those tip-of-the-tongue moments, she was fishing for a word she wanted. “What’s that word? Barbarians? Ombudsmen?” Finally, triumphantly, she came up with it: cannibals. Don’t ask me how we got on a subject where “cannibals” was a word pertinent to the conversation.

I’m pretty good at helping my first grader with his homework, but beyond that, I’m lost. When my fourth grader got stumped on his math the other week, I helped him . . . by taking the paper to my eighth-grader and saying, “How do you do this?” If my high-schooler ever gets math-flummoxed, we’ll either have to Call a Friend or ask Dad. He’s an MIT guy and people with advanced degrees from the hallowed halls of the beaver aren’t intimidated by, you know, fractions and stuff.

By the way, if you ever want to cheer on an MIT team, here’s one of their chants:

I'm a Beaver, you're a Beaver, we are Beavers all.
And when we get together, we do the Beaver call.
E to the U du dx,
E to the X dx.
Cosine, secant, tangent, sine, 3.14159.
Integral radical mu dv
Slipstick, sliderule, MIT.
Go Tech!

Gets your blood pumping, doesn’t it?

I was a history major in college, but I’ve forgotten it all. Every last exploration, war, treaty, and squirelly little international incident is gone with the wind. The only Manifest Destiny I know anything about is the way that dirty socks, toys and school papers are destined to spread from the east side of the house to the west by sundown each day. But in the years since graduation, I have learned lots of new things, most importantly:

How to sneak the last ice cream bar without getting busted by the kids.

Actually, I’m not completely hopeless in the homework department. I can help my kids edit essays. And I’m very proud to report that my niece used The Believer for a recent book report. That is definitely the ultimate in cool—to write a book report book!

But in honor of my in-name-only history degree, today's goal is: use the phrase "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!" in conversation. Extra credit if I can relate it to Admiral Ackbar and the Mughals. (As humor columnist Dave Barry would say, that would be a good name for a rock band).

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Headlines don't sell papes; Storymakers sell papes

by Robison Wells

So, I'm a member of the LDStorymakers, and you can rest assured that I dislike the double-duty 'S' there every bit as much as you do. But do they listen to me? No. And why should they? It's not like I ever pay my dues on time.

The Storymakers are a group of forty or so LDS authors who have banded together to help each other out--there's strength in numbers. In that sense, it's not unlike Newsies: Deseret Book is Mr. Joseph Pulitzer, raising the cost of papes by one-tenth of a cent; I'm Jack "Cowboy" Kelly, singing about Santa Fe; Jeff Savage is Racetrack Higgins; and Julie "Coulter" Bellon is Crutchy. And once a year we fight The Man, perform angry dances, and shoot slingshots at newspapermen. This event is called the annual LDStorymakers Writers Conference.

The theme of this year's event is: "The Magic of Writing". I don't know if that theme will be used for anything more than posters (since I didn't see any magicians on the schedule), but there's a distinct possibility that someone is going to saw James Dashner in half. Other highlights: making grammar disappear, and pulling exposition out of a hat.

So anyway, let me say this: I hate conferences generally. I'm staunchly of the opinion that writing conferences usually serve two purposes: (1) to allow authors to self-promote and (2) to allow aspiring authors a good excuse to not be writing. But, that said, let me just say that this conference is fan-freaking-tastic, truly the exception to the rule

Here's the conference schedule, and I dare you to tell me that these classes don't sound interesting:

Friday, March 23, 2007

7:30 - 8:00 a.m. Boot Camp Registration
8:00 - 11:00 a.m. "Boot Camp, Part I" - An optional two-day, hands-on class - Bill Gardner as Captain
11:00 - 11:30 a.m. General Registration
11:30 - 12:00 noon Welcome, Introductions - Master of Ceremonies, James Dashner
12:00 - 12:50 pm Plenary Session - "Overview of LDS Market 2006 & Genres" - Rachel Ann Nunes
1:00 - 2:00 p.m.
Workshop Session 1 Choice of three classes:
1. "Nuts and Bolts of Writing" - Heather B. Moore
2. "Non-fiction: Books and Articles" - Eric Swedin
3. ADVANCED - "Public Speaking" - Laura Debenham
2:10 - 3:10 p.m.
Workshop Session 2 Choice of three classes:
1. "Young Adult" - Lisa Peck & Loralee Evans
2. "Romance" - Josi S. Kilpack
3. "Characterization" - Janette Rallison
3:20 - 4:20 p.m.
Workshop Session 3 Choice of three classes:
1. "Point Of View" - Candace Salima
2. "Grammar and Punctuation" - Annette Lyon
3. ADVANCED - "Finding, Using, and Staying True to Your Voice" - Tristi Pinkston
4:30 - 5:30 p.m. Closing Session - Brandon Sanderson
5:30 - 6:00 p.m. Break (dinner setup)
6:00 - 7:30 p.m. Dinner
Entertainment by John Bytheway - Popular Author and Speaker

Saturday March 24, 2006

7:30 - 9:00 a.m. "Boot Camp, Part II" An optional two-day, hands-on class - Bill Gardner as Captain
8:00 - 9:00 a.m. General Registration (for Saturday-only attendees)
9:15 - 9:30 a.m. Introductions - Master of Ceremonies, James Dashner
9:30 - 10:20 a.m. Plenary Session - "Making Your Manuscript More Attractive" - Shirley Bahlmann
"Writing & Publishing Myths" - Bill Gardner as MC, with Jewel Adams, Janet Jensen, Christine Kersey, LeeAnn Setzer, Carole Warburton, BJ Rowley, Allison Palmer, and Katie Parker

10:30 - 11:30 a.m.
Publisher Panel
11:40 - 12:50 a.m. Lunch
Contest winners will be announced at 12:30
12:50 - 2:00 p.m.
Workshop Session 4 Choice of three classes:
1. "Research: Blending Fact with Fiction" - Robison Wells
2. "Children's Books" - Sharlee Glenn
3. ADVANCED - "Agents, Queries, & Submitting Nationally" - Jeffrey S. Savage
2:10 - 3:20 p.m.
Workshop Session 5 Choice of three classes:
1. "Fantasy" - James Dashner & Julie Wright
2. "Dialogue" - Annette Lyon
3. ADVANCED - "Outlining" - Jeffrey S. Savage
3:30 - 4:40 p.m.
Workshop Session 6 Choice of three classes:
1. "Historical Fiction" - Jim Rada
2. "Poetry" - Dr. Cynthia Hallen
3. ADVANCED - "Editing Your Work" - Julie Bellon

4:50 - 5:40 p.m.
Plenary Session - "Structure, Pacing, & Flow" - Sierra St. James

5:45 - 6:00 p.m.

Closing Comments & Wrap-up - Josi S. Kilpack & Julie Wright (Conference Queens)

6:00 - 9:00 p.m. AI MIX & Mingle - Hosted by the Authors Incognito Group (click here for details)

Here's some trivia:

*Did you notice that both Jeff and Julie are teaching "advanced" sessions, and I'm not. Why? Because their classes make use of science, while my class makes use of phrenology, welteislehre, and algebra.

*If you come to my class, I will have a Powerpoint presentation featuring at least one photo of Hooters restaurant. I swear I am not making this up.

*The Bill Pullman character is played by Annette Lyon.

*Governor Theodore Roosevelt is played by Rachel Ann Nunes.

*Holy crap, have you ever looked at Newsies on IMDB? Other characters include: Boots, Mush, Kid Blink, Snipeshooter, Dutchy, Snoddy, Skittery, Bumlets, Pie Eater, and Swifty the Rake.

*Bumlets is played by Bill Gardner.

*Brandon Sanderson, who is a guest speaker, was in my original writing group when I worked on my very first novel, and he (and the rest of that group) taught me 95% of what I know about writing.

*Plenary means "complete in every respect". So, like, you know you're going to get your money's worth from the plenary sessions.

*If you attend my class, you'll most likely get to meet Bertrand, my unpaid intern.

*Seriously: Bumlets?

For more information about the conference, ask your friendly neighborhood Storymaker! (Or click here.)

Getting Off on the Right Foot

By Jeffrey S Savage

In a follow-up to last week’s blog, I am posting notes from my second novel writing class. This week we talked about beginnings. This is an area a lot of writers struggle with, including me. In fact, many writers end of rewriting their beginnings after the novel is done.

This happens for a couple of reasons. Often the author doesn’t really know their characters yet and they have not gotten into the flow of the story like they do later on. In addition, the things a writer wants to tell first (back story and setting) are some of the least gripping for the reader.

And yet the beginning is what sells your book. A reader/agent/editor may only browse a few paragraphs before deciding whether or not they want to read on. True more established authors can get away with slow beginnings. Slow beginnings were also much more common even twenty years a go. But now in the age of computers, video games, DVDs, etc, you don’t have twenty or thirty pages to real the reader slowly in. Immediacy is the name of the game.

With that in mind, here are five ways to kill the beginning of your novel.

5 things to avoid


Jane remembered the first time she’d sat on this very rock. It was the day after Michael left. She remembered the wind had been blowing cold, and her face had been raw and chapped by the tears she’d shed over the last few days.

"You have to go on with your life,” Mary said, rubbing the handle of her unusual umbrella. But Jane hadn’t wanted to go on with her life. She hadn’t wanted to go on with anything. All she wanted to do was curl up in a ball, drink some lime cordial, and . . .

Avoid flashbacks like the plague in the first few chapters. Even later in the book, carefully consider whether you can weave the back story into the plot. If you really need to begin with a flashback you are probably starting your book in the wrong place.

Likewise, avoid the big foreshadowing moment. “Little did he realize that the person on the other side of the door would change his life forever.” Or “She had no idea she was about to get hit by a bus.” Usually a writer uses these types of lines because they know their story is not exciting enough yet and they are beg the reader to stay with them.


"Now I have you the!” the ogre shouted, placing his spear tip against Mickey’s throat.

Mickey, tried to pull away, but the flint cut cruelly into his furry flesh, drawing blood. Mickey knew he had only one chance. He needed his wand. It was less than a foot away, but before he could think of a scheme to reach it, the ogre sneered.

"Too late, sorcerer. Now you will taste death.” The ogre rammed the spear into Mickey’s throat. Mickey coughed out a red spray—which coincidentally matched his outfit—as his life bled onto the ground. It was finished. He was dead.

Mickey jerked awake with a moan. “Oh, boy!” he cried in his squeaky voice. “What a dream.”

The reader is pulled into the story by a sense of false excitement, and then has the rug pulled out from under them. They will rightfully feel cheated and you’ll lose their trust.

Killing off a character too early

"Can I get you a cup of coffee?”

”Certainly,” replied Jane.

“With a little cream if you have it.”

”Of course.” As Tarzan started toward the kitchen, the jealous hunter stepped into the living room and began to spray bullets. Tarzan crumpled to the ground, dead.

An early death is okay if the character’s death is more important than the character. (I.e. the start of a murder mystery.) But any death is much more powerful if you take even a couple of paragraphs to make us like the character or even better like the relationship between the character who gets killed, and the character who lives on. Take the time to up the ante for the reader.

Unearned emotions

”Why?” Jasmine wailed, pounding her fists against the useless lamp. Hot tears dripped down her cheeks as she gnashed her teeth. It was so unfair!

“Why did he have to die?” She’d loved him so much—more than life itself. He was everything to her. Her little street rat. And now he was gone. Stabbed by a maniacal street vendor. She pressed her face against her silk pillow and wept until she finally fell asleep and dreamed about an ogre and a white-gloved rodent.

We don’t know the person Jasmine is weeping over and frankly don’t care at this point. And Jasmine comes off as whiny and unlikable. As the author, you understand Jasmine’s pain because you know all about her wonderful life with Aladdin, But remember, the reader doesn’t.

Flowery descriptions

It was a warm day for early spring, and the smell of jasmine floated on the slightly damp air—the flower, not the spoiled princess. Everywhere Aurora looked, signs of life abounded. Red throated warblers warbled, sprouts sprouted, fuzzy little bunnies . . . did whatever it was bunnies do. The sun peeked down from between the branches of the aspens and maples. It was a wonderful day to be alive. If only she could find a prince to help her celebrate her sixteenth birthday.

This is the most common mistake writers make. Because you see the scene in your mind, you feel you must share that first—to set the table so to speak. But the reader wants something to happen. And a flowery description of Aunt Mabel’s farm isn’t it. Cut to the action and fill us in on the scenery later.

So how do you grab the reader’s attention?

Here are a couple of thoughts.

Enter the scene late and leave it early.

Come in during the middle of a discussion, just as the protagonist steps in front of the bus, as shots are fired. Let the reader be dropped right into the middle of the action. A little bit of confusion as to what’s going on can carry a reader a long way. And leave the reader wanting more in your first chapter. Make them HAVE to turn the page.

Keep it short and sweet.

Beginning writers almost always are too wordy. This can kill your beginning. Trim it until there is nothing but action. And seriously consider whether you are starting at the right point. Often the true beginning of your story gets placed in chapter three. Start there and fill us in later.

Action, action, action

Want to hook your reader right away? Start with a woman in jeopardy. Readers will immediately empathize with a women being chased down a dark alley by a menacing figure in a black cloak.

But even if you can’t do that, make sure something is happening when we start reading.

The explosive beginning

Another good tool is a beginning that immediately grabs our attention. Make something happen that surprises or shocks the reader. Or even makes them laugh out loud.

Unexpected dialog

”Excuse me ma’am, but could you please remove your child from the meat grinder?”

”Didn’t I see you on a wanted poster?”

”Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m short, homely, broke, and I have a strange odor about me. But I’m really desperate to take someone to the prom. What do you say?”

What did you just say?

The thing about human heads is they always turn up in the most inconvenient places.

Creating a bond to one or more characters

Make me like your character right away. This can be the toughest to do, but it works really well if you can pull it off.

So that’s it. Remember the goal of the first line is to get the reader to go on to the second line. The goal of the first paragraph is the same.

I don’t claim to be a pro at this yet, but hopefully I’ve improved at this over the years. In my first book I began with a flowery description and an entire chapter of flashback. In my most recent book, I began with a dead man telling my protagonist his dead wife is trying to kill him. This takes place while the protagonist is choking on a lettuce, tomato, and chow mein sandwich.