Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, January 21, 2008

Why I Write

Last week I wrote about why I run. So today, in order to reach perfect circularity, I should run about why I write. Not entirely sure how I would do that. How about running on about how I write? Given the length of my recent blogs, it’s entirely doable.

Some people write because they “have to.” It’s like breathing for them. I’m not like that. Just ask my editor at Covenant. In fact there are times when I find I can’t write. I don’t lack the desire, it’s just that for whatever reason, my brain needs to recharge.

Some people write for fame and fortune. For most of us that lasts right up until you see your first royalty check. Certainly some people achieve fame and fortune from writing. But most of them keep on writing even when they have all the fame and fortune they could ever want. It’s not about the money or most of us would have stopped a long, long, time ago.

Like running, writing is hard. You have to work at it close to every day or it becomes even harder. There are times when you literally curse your keyboard, and wonder why you ever started this stupid story. For pretty much everyone except the kindergartener who gets her first story on the fridge, writing comes with lots of rejection. Even writers whose first book turns into a bestseller get rejected by someone. Just check out the one-star ratings on Amazon. And I think those rejections sting no matter who you are or how long you’ve been writing.

So why write?

For the moments like my good friend Jules experienced, where a girl and her entire family took the missionary discussions and got baptized. At her baptism, the girl said it was because of reading Jules’ book that she investigated the church. Or the man from Kenya who asked to meet with the missionaries after reading my first book. Not that those moments are always about the church at all. But just having someone feel like their life is better or more meaningful because of something you wrote is the ultimate high. Like Jules told me, none of the rejections matter a hill of beans compared to this.

For the times when you hear someone laugh, or cry, or gasp, at something you wrote. And for the times when they tell you how little sleep they got the night before, because they just had to find out what happened.

For the chance it gives you to teach others what you’ve learned. Over the next month and a half I’ll be presenting to the Nebo Reading Council Young Writers, League of Utah Writers Spring Round Up, Shirley Bahlmann’s Ephraim writing group, American Leadership Academy parents, Life the Universe and Everything Conference, and The LDStorymakers Writing Conference. I’ll get to join James Dashner, Julie Wright, Chris Schoebinger, Orson Scott Card, and a host of writers I’ve admired for years. I’m thrilled to be able to teach others and to learn from some truly great artists.

I talked last week about how often running is hard, but how there are times when you feel as if you are floating. There are times like that in writing too. Times when the hole in the page is so big you can see your world with crystal clear vision and your fingers race across the keyboard, trying to get down every word before the hole closes and you are back to picking and pecking your way through unknown passages.

Last week Lisa Mangum, my editor at Shadow Mountain, asked me to put together discussion questions for the back of my YA fantasy. At first I could only come up with things like, “If Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Master Therapass got in a fight, who would win?” Which is an intriguing question, you must admit. Later I realized there actually were some questions I came up with that made me feel pretty good about the values kids might be able to pick up from my story. Like “Marcus feels different from the other boys in his school because of his disabilities and because of the way he can grow dim and sense things before they happen. Kyja feels different because she can’t do magic. Has there ever been a time when you felt different? Does being different have to be a bad thing? How can being different be good?”

If I can expand a child’s horizons with my stories and make them ponder questions like this, I will have succeeded beyond my greatest wishes.

But ultimately I write for the readers. I write because it makes me smile when I get e-mails—even when they tell me they hated my cliff hanger ending. Okay especially that. Because it tells me that my characters have become real to them. That somehow through the magic of words on paper I have been able to convey what’s in my mind into their mind. There’s a kind of magic to that.

And on that note, I’d like to share with you a final example of why I write. I got an e-mail from Michele, a good friend and fellow writer (who happens to be up for a Whiney for her first published novel!). She said that she’d forwarded my running blog to her father who is a fellow runner and that he loved it. She also sent me an interview her daughter, Alyssa, did for her sixth grade class. Alyssa is at the top of my favorite fan list already for pre-reading Farworld and writing in her comments, “This is the best book I will ever read.” Can you get better praise than that? Her interview is with one of my characters, Shandra Covington. Her mother forwarded it to me exactly as Alyssa wrote it and I laughed my head off. She has such a great voice and such a fun style, I have no doubt she’ll follow her Mom’s writing success.

Here is the interview. I only bleeped out one line, because Alyssa has read some of my new book and I don’t her to give any of it away. If you haven’t read the first two Shandra Covington mysteries and plan to, there are a few pretty big spoilers.

Interview with Shandra Covington main character from Dead on Arrival
By: Alyssa Holmes

Alyssa: "Hello Shandra, and just how are you today?"

Shandra: "I am doing fine."

Alyssa: "So Shandra how are you feeling after the incident at Echo Lake?"

"Well," says Shandra. "To be honest I'm not doing all that well."

"You're probably doing a lot better than any other girl who gets chased by a tractor, shot in the ribs, and jumped out of a barn," says Alyssa.

Applause from the audience after the speech.

"Well," says Shandra. "I'll have to admit that those few months ago seem like a vacation after what's been going on lately."

Alyssa: "Oh, do tell us."

"Tell , Tell , Tell!" chants the audience.

"Well," says Shandra again. "It all started when a woman dressed like her father, whose name was Pinky Templeton, came in and said that his dead wife was trying to kill him, but the only problem was that he was dead. Then the same afternoon he or she really put an explosive in her car and it blew up with her father's body inside of it. But I'm still not finished, at the end I thought that Pinky was my father, but it was Pinky's only daughter. She got shot and died, so when that was all over, my friend Bobby called and had news and was coming over to my apartment to tell me the good news. but when I got there—" (Shandra crying) "Bobby was curled up on the floor with—" (More sobs and crying) "—blood coming out of his chest. And worst of all I almost lost my friend Cordelia Dunes the day of the explosion that Pinky made. She chased him on her bike and was very close and got hurt severely," said Shandra.

"Alright everybody. Let's give it up for Shandra." (applause) "Now Shandra can we just ask you a few more questions?"

"Sure," she said.

Alyssa: "So Shandra, have you ever figured out the mystery of your father, is he really dead, why did he leave, and does he really love you?"

Shandra: "I am so sorry to say but I can only answer two of the three questions. First of all, no I have not figured out the mystery of my father, and sometimes I give up hope that he is still alive. But I know my father left to protect my family, and last of all, my father did love me. Pinky told me that he loved me and was always there watching me secretly."

Alyssa: "Well Shandra thank you so much for all of the time that you have spent with us today. So everybody let's give it up for Shandra one last time!" (applause from the crowd erupts .)

(Music plays in the back ground)

Thanks Alyssa. That made my whole week. I can’t wait for an interview with Kyja!


At 1/22/2008 12:04 AM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Very fun interview with Shandra. I remember when Lynda from our critique group said that her son had to make a movie poster for a class project. He used one of my books as the subject. Little things like that are pretty cool!

At 1/22/2008 11:32 AM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Sounds like she also admires Rob Wells, with all this interview savvy goin' on!

Speaking of making readers cry, I like making my dad cry. If I can do that, it's a total success.

At 1/22/2008 11:48 AM, Anonymous Jennie said...

Jeff, I've been thinking of you. I've just waded through the first ten chapters of a boring, negative book where those first ten chapters are all back fill. sigh! I knew you'd want to share my misery. Anyway, Jeff, great blog. I love being able to count on you to never be boring.

At 1/22/2008 7:40 PM, Blogger Jon said...

Well, I can rule out Gandalf in your list - he stinks as a wizard! Great feats of magic we see him do:

1) Talks to small animal
2) Fireworks show
3) Emits a beam of light at invading army

Seriously, if he didn't have that sword, what good would he be?

What can Master Therapist do? ;)


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