Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, March 29, 2008

How to Lose 13 Pounds in a Week

by Sariah S. Wilson

1. Get gallstones.

2. Have doctors who are in no particular hurry to help remove said gallstones.

Voila! You will lose an astonishing amount of weight. Who knew that the secret to really fast weight loss was to be in so much pain that you just eat nothing for days on end?

Of course, if you have this condition there will be some side effects.

First - unbelievable pain. You must understand that I have an incredibly high tolerance for pain. I fell off an eight-foot stage when I was five and split my chin open. I walked around looking for my dad (this was during basketball practice) with a huge flap of skin hanging down and blood going everywhere. I wasn't crying. It didn't hurt. It didn't hurt later in the ER when they stitched me up without any meds. I've had my fingers caught in doors and calmly informed my mother of the situation, I once had a full shopping cart tipped over on me at three years old and politely asked my mother to remove it. With my first child I was having contractions that were literally off the monitoring scale and didn't feel a thing.

So when I say this is excruciating pain, you have to understand how bad it truly is. I've never felt anything like this. They gave me Vicodin for it, and it still hurt, like, a lot.

The second thing you may have to deal with is any complications. Apparently one of my gallstones has rebellion issues and decided to venture down a certain tube in order to block liver functions. This means I get to have not one, but two surgeries. One to find the rogue stone, the other to take the gallbladder out entirely in case any of the other stones go getting funny ideas.

So because of this little stuck sucker, I am now yellow. This just lends further credence to my idea that the Lamanite DNA did not change overnight, because I cannot begin to tell you how totally disconcerting it is to wake up in the morning and unexpectedly be a different color than the one you were the night before. The silver lining would be that before I had only two skin tones - fish white and bright red (I do not tan). Now we can add yellow to the palette. Unfortunately it's not a nice yellow, because I do sort of look like this now:

Okay, Oompa-Loompas are arguably more orange in nature, but they're the closest thing I can compare myself to. I am neon yellow. Including my eyeballs. It is so bizarre.

And if you get yellow, then you have to deal with the itching. Which has made it so that I haven't slept in three days. Chicken pox was not this bad. Apparently the increase in bilirubin gets bile salts right under your skin which makes you itch like you're covered in poison ivy from head to toe. Nothing's much helping with that, either.

The upside of all of this is how I am so doing this to a character in a book someday. They're definitely waking up yellow. And itchy.

Have you ever taken some un-fun event from your real life and used it in your writing?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Build a Better Book

Today is my birthday, but you get the present! Right here, right now, the one-and-only Jennie Hansen has written a blog about what she looks for in a book to include in one of her insightful reviews for Meridian. If there is anybody in our market who is better-read or more dedicated to the cause, I haven't met them. Jennie does as much for LDS fiction in one review as some of us accomplish in our whole careers. This is an inside look at how she goes about it.

Reviewing LDS Books
by Jennie Hansen

I’m a critic. And I mean that in the nicest way. I’m not the sort of critic that enjoys pointing out faults and flaws. I’ve been accused of being hurtful, but that’s never my intent. What I aim for is improving LDS fiction. I believe in LDS fiction and want to see it get better and better. My way of doing that is by pointing out where improvements could be made---and applauding what authors get right. It is also my goal to educate readers to what is available in this fast growing field and encourage them to try new authors, inform them when an old favorite has a new release, and generally serve as a cheerleader for LDS fiction.

Most writers want and dread having their books reviewed. I’m one of the lucky ones who get to do the reviewing. One of the questions frequently asked of me is what I look for in books I review. I also get asked by authors how they can get their books reviewed in Meridian. Others wonder what good is a review. I’ll try to answer those questions.

I’ll start with the last question. Review columns such as mine serve a dual purpose 1) to inform potential readers of new books that are available and help them decide which books to spend their money on and 2) to improve the quality of books offered to the public by informing writers of those areas that need work and which areas they got right.

Most of the books I review are sent to me by the various publishers, though occasionally I receive a book directly from an author, especially if it is self-published or published by a publisher who doesn’t ordinarily publish LDS fiction. I review only LDS fiction—that is fiction that is written by an LDS author and/or has LDS elements. I try to read everything I receive, but that isn’t always possible. And I’ll admit I don’t finish every book I start.

When I first began reviewing, I only reviewed books I liked. Even a bad review is publicity and I was squeamish about giving free advertising to books I couldn’t honestly recommend. Now, because my readers have requested it, I review the majority of the books I receive whether I like them or not. My reviews are shorter and sometimes less kind, but I can honestly say most of the books sent to me by LDS publishers have merit though, of course, some are better than others.

The first thing I look for in a book is whether or not it stands out from the crowd. I want books that catch my attention right from the start and hold it. A great cover is a good start, but I’m more interested in the actual words that start the story and whether or not the book starts where the real story starts.

I’ve heard it said there are only about sixteen basic story plots. Off hand I can’t name them, but I do appreciate a fresh approach to tried and true themes and it’s a delight when an author chooses a topic that hasn’t been done to death. Often I receive several books with the same basic storyline. They may all be good, but I’m going to review the one that has a different or new way of viewing the theme. Sometimes when faced with two comparable books, I’ll choose the one by the author who is new to the genre. I’ll admit there are a few authors who write so well I would like to review every book he/she writes, but if time or space is limited, I will most likely give the established writer a pass unless the work is unusual or outstanding for that author.

I look for good writing. I prefer books that have been thoroughly scanned by a good copyeditor, but there’s more involved than proper grammar and freedom from typos. A good writer doesn’t keep me guessing from whose point of view a scene is being viewed and he/she doesn’t arbitrarily switch points of view in the middle of a scene. Too many points of view create cluttered writing. Childish sentence structure will lose me, as will pompous over-blown sentences and paragraphs. The same rules that govern excellent writing in the general market hold true for LDS novels. Also the premise or theme of the book must be weighty enough to carry through the entire book.

Since I review LDS fiction there must be a connection to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for books to qualify for my review column. That connection may be as slight as the author being a member of the Church and that the book follows standards that are commonly acceptable to members of the Church. The books do not have to be products of an LDS publisher, but most are. I don’t review books that present the Church in a negative light or ones that take a stand in opposition to Church policies or tenets. I prefer books that simply tell a story set in the context of the LDS culture, rather than those that preach or attempt to convert.

Character development is important to a story and I look for characters I can feel are real and I want to like the protagonist. I want to see characters that grow or are somehow changed by the events in the book. I like plots that have a beginning, a middle, and an end with twists and turns that hold my attention. The setting isn’t as important to me as character and plot, but it still plays an important role and it helps if the author gets details of the background right. (There’s no Angel Moroni on the Manti temple, potatoes aren’t dug in May, and reins aren’t used to drive oxen.)

Every reviewer has a few personal idiosyncrasies and strong likes and dislikes. We’re human and we each set the criteria by which we judge a novel to be strong or weak by varying standards. Some of my particular dislikes are stories based on misunderstandings that could be resolved in five minutes of honest dialog between the characters. I don’t like unrealistic behavior from supposedly mature adults, helpless females that have to be rescued by a man or a miracle, or going beyond an acceptable level of literary license when dealing with historical or scriptural characters. I’m very picky about speculative fiction and “near” history as well. I enjoy both well-written genre and literary fiction, though I’m not a fan of extremely esoteric literary works.

When I first began reviewing it was difficult to get an LDS novel reviewed. The few reviews that appeared in papers or magazines were generally scornful of those early books. The magazine I work for, Meridian at and the AML group, were pioneers in this endeavor. Now there are many sources of reviews of LDS novels. Many online reviewers have sprung up and some of them are excellent. I believe all of these reviews are playing a role in making LDs fiction more satisfying to read.

Besides being a faithful reviewer of others' work, Jennie is a best-selling author of many, many novels in a variety of genres, and was recently awarded the Whitney Lifetime Achievement Award for her varied accomplishments. You can visit her website HERE.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Next Best Thing

by Julie Coulter Bellon

As a host at the LDStoryMakers Writing Conference last weekend, part of my duties were to be a timekeeper for Tim Travaglini’s manuscript review sessions. Mr. Travaglini is a Senior Editor at G.P. Putnam’s Sons and was the editor of such books as, "Take the Ex Out of Ex-Boyfriend" by Janette Rallison, "The Monster Blood Tattoo" trilogy by D.M. Cornish, and "Yellowbelly and Plum Go To School" by Nathan Hale, to name a few.

I didn’t think being the timekeeper was going to be a very interesting job. The job description was pretty basic: wear a watch, make sure each participant had exactly ten minutes with Mr. Travaglini, and give him a one minute warning so he could wrap it up. The door was open and I sat outside the room with my little watch, gamely making sure everyone got their ten minutes. It was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be, however.

The people who had made appointments with Mr. Travaglini were generally pretty nervous while they waited for their turn to talk to him, so I tried to ease their nerves by talking with them beforehand and asking about their manuscripts that he would be reviewing. It surprised me what a wide range of effort had been put into the individual manuscripts. Some people had only spent five hours on what they had submitted to Mr. Travaglini and others had spent up to two years working on the same piece of writing. Some were very confident that their book would be the next best thing on the market, while others seemed very timid and petrified of what Mr. Travaglini was going to say. I didn’t feel bad about sending them into the room to meet with Mr. Travaglini, though, because from the bits and snatches I could hear of his discussions through the open door, he seemed to be giving really good, in-depth feedback to the authors in a very kind manner. (And when I spoke to him in between sessions, he really did understand how most authors have sensitive egos when it came to hearing a critique of their work.)

I was glad to know he had that understanding of writers later on, when I could tell that an author had disagreed or argued with him over the vision of their work, or when there was near silence and I could only hear him talking and the author didn’t utter a peep. I wondered which authors had made an impression on him most—was it the more vocal ones who defended their work or was it the ones who accepted his critique with hardly a word? I would imagine an editor can see right away which sort of writer they would like to work with and which ones would best fit their personality. But throughout the entire day, I was impressed that Mr. Travaglini seemed friendly and courteous to everyone he spoke to no matter what their personality was.

Another interesting part of the job was seeing the authors after the session and their reactions when I asked them how it went. Most were thrilled with the feedback from such a prestigious editor, but some were disappointed he hadn’t asked for a full manuscript. There were a few who just walked away without saying anything at all, but overall I think everyone was grateful for the opportunity to at least gauge the possibility of their manuscripts making it past the enormous slush pile that can be found at most publishing houses these days.

The best part for me, however, was meeting all the different people who were aspiring to be authors---especially the ones who knew, deep down, that they would realize their dream someday and that this was just one more step in the journey. You can always tell those sorts of authors---the ones who are genuinely pleased to have feedback that, while it may not be what they expected, they know it will make their book better. It was exciting to see those authors talking about taking the advice that Mr. Travaglini had given them, making the adjustments he'd suggested and submitting their manuscripts to him again, now that they had made his acquaintance. Who knows? Maybe I met the next Janette Rallison sitting outside that room. I can’t wait to see if I did.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Another Whitney Blog!

by Stephanie Black

Since just about everyone on the LDS writing planet has already blogged about the Whitney Awards—except for Rob, who is having flashbacks to the Cold War (understandable after all the stress in his life)—it feels a little redundant to blog about it again today. But I’m going to do it anyway. I’m just so dang excited about everything Whitney-ish! Besides, it’s either the Whitneys-as-blog-topic or a recap of our family trip to the zoo. Here’s a picture of giraffes:

Okay, I’ll do the Whitneys instead. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at the Whitney Awards gala. I confess that sometimes I get evilly jealous of authors who live in Utah and can attend all kinds of fun author events without the need for air travel or rental cars. Sniff. The party is in Utah and here I am in California (I’ll bet Sariah doesn’t feel sorry for me—she’s farther away than I am). But then again, March in Utah can involve snow and ice and meanwhile, I can wear sunglasses and watch my son play baseball. Not that we have it easy here. People do suffer from the cold. (“Dude, my toes are hecka frozen.” “Dude, why did you wear your flip-flops to the Christmas party?”).

So, anyway. A huge congratulations to all the Whitney winners! And while we’re at it, a huge congratulations to all the Whitney finalists (go, Sariah!). I feel honored to have been part of the first Whitney Committee, led by the fearless and frighteningly brilliant Robison Wells. The committee was filled with super-talented and super-knowledgeable people and frankly, I wasn’t quite worthy of them. They accomplished wonders while I mainly looked dazed and read a bunch of books.

This year is going to be a big switch for me. Instead of being behind-the-scenes on the committee, I’m going to be chewing my fingernails and wondering if my new book will get anywhere near the Whitney ballot. The competition in suspense fiction is going to be fierce this year. But even if the only person who ever nominates my book is my sister, I’m planning to attend the LDStorymakers’ Conference and Whitney gala next year. Looking at the pictures and hearing the reports from this year’s events makes me want to BE there! So if you’re planning to attend next year, I can’t wait to meet you!

And whenever you read a great 2008 novel by an LDS author, consider nominating it for a Whitney. You can nominate as many books as you want (but can’t nominate a book more than once per category). The Whitney website is currently accepting nominations and will continue to accept them through December 31st. The Whitneys are off to a fantastic start, and it’s going to take a lot of reader excitement and participation to keep up that momentum (which reminds me--THANK YOU to all you readers who nominated books last year and helped give the Whitneys a great launch).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dear Soviet Union

(Robison Wells hasn't slept in three weeks, due to a small pea beneath his many mattresses. A pea named Whitney. Consequently, today you'll be getting one of the Robison Wells Blog Classics®. This was originally posted to his blog on March 2, 2006.)

Dear Soviet Union,

Hi! How are things? It's been a while. I miss you -- I really do! You guys always made the greatest movie villians, what with your accents and vodka and inherent evilness.

The reason I'm writing is because I thought about you the other day. You see, my son was born about six months ago, and he never received his Social Security card in the mail. And without that card, there's no way that I can file my taxes. And without my taxes filed, I'll go to jail. (And while I totally think Lenin was awesome for rebelling against The Man and going to prison, I'm still a little squeamish about that kind of thing.)

So, I had to go to the Social Security Administration offices, and it was like my own little piece of Russia, right here in Utah. Fifty chairs were arranged theater-style, facing a row of five windows, although only two of the five windows were staffed and open for business. As I entered, I picked a number -- I got '3', and as I sat down the clerk called for number 'U-1606'. The walls were drab, and the floors unmopped, and the security guard occasionally sprayed air-freshener around himself to make the odor tolerable.

And I waited. The next number called was something like 'B528', and after that was 'U-1607'. It would be a while before they got to '3'.

Most of the patrons were patient and understanding. There was an old woman who couldn't figure out the Get-A-Number machine, and someone kindly helped her. A long -haired foreigner (who talked on the phone for, like, forever) (I think he was German) couldn't understand the forms he'd been given, and someone gave him aid. We all had to endure the same afflictions, and like prisoners in Siberia we pulled together to find strength. (Except for the foul-mouthed girls on the front row, who came in and only waited for ten minutes, and then swore and left. You know the saying: If you can't take the bureaucracy, get out of the Social Security Office. No salvation-through-suffering for them!)

And what salvation it was! After an hour and a half I finally had my moment in the sun, sitting in front of the window, talking to the clerk. He was surpringly pleasant for working in such a red-tape nightmare, and he never once uttered the Social Security Administration's motto: "I'm sorry, you don't have the right forms." On the contrary, after two minutes at his desk I had Sammy's number, and by the end of the day I'd completed my taxes.

And was the return big? You bet it was, Soviet Union. Way bigger than it would have been under communist control. America so totally rocks. I mean, honestly: give it up, pinkos.

My best to the wife and kids.

Hugs and kisses,


Monday, March 24, 2008

And We'll Have Fun, Fun, Fun!

Wow! What a great conference. My hat’s off to Annette and Heather for an amazingly great conference. Record setting turn out. Awesome food. Great hand outs. Excellent speakers. All topped off by a truly memorable Whitney Awards ceremony set up by our very own Rob and Kerry along with many others.

What can I say? How many times do you have the chance to teach to amazing writers packed until there isn’t even room to sit? How often to you get to do a flannel board presentation to Dean Hughes, Anita Stansfield, Jennie Hansen, Brandon Sanderson, Brandon Mull, Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, Rachel Nunes and many, many others? How many times do you get to have two beautiful women dress you in crown, robe, slippers, a sword that actually makes sounds, gauntlets of power, laser beam (or something like that) and a scepter that doubles as a water gun? How often do you get to spend three fun filled nights in a hotel room with my wife but no kids? (It better be none or I’m coming hunting for you buster, and it won’t be pretty!) How often do you get to embarrass the heck out of James Dashner with pictures like this?

I’ve already heard from many attendees how much they enjoyed it all, and how much they learned. But I honestly don’t know if anyone could have had more fun that me. Okay well maybe the Whitney Finalists and winners. (Until they discovered Rob forgot to sign their checks. Heh, heh, heh. That kidder.)

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Winner Is…Not Me and The Gall of Stones

By Sariah S. Wilson

First off, a special thank you to everyone who posted a comment on my blog last week. You guys gave me some great ideas, some great motivation and I appreciated you all cheering me on.

So, it turns out I didn’t win a Whitney. Which honestly didn’t much surprise me. It was a little disappointing, though. Admittedly, I would have been pretty shocked if I had won. Those are some really talented authors that I was nominated alongside. I never believed those actors who talk about what an honor it is to be nominated, but now I understand. It really was an honor just to be nominated. And I think from now on I should be addressed as Whitney Award Nominee Sariah S. Wilson. No? Too much?

It probably doesn’t help matters that I’m sitting here in excruciating pain. Yes, something else inside me has broken. I think I’ll remember 2008 as the year my body turned on itself. Anyway, I’ve been having this sharp pain right under my ribs that was coming and going and now has just come and stayed. I went to the doctor on Friday and he thinks I have gallstones. Fun, right?

What with this being a holiday weekend, I can’t get an ultrasound until Monday morning. That probably means some sort of surgery next week. Because gallstones apparently don’t go away like kidney stones – they have to be taken out.

So now that I have shared the bad news, I will move on to happier thoughts and wish a Happy Easter to everyone and a big congratulations to all the Whitney Award winners.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Latter Day Saints, A Call to Battle: Put on Your Spiritual Armor: Guest Blogger Deirdra Eden Coppel

Several years ago I participated in a medieval jousting tournament. As part of my training and preparation, I needed to gain 25 pounds before I could compete in the lowest weight division. I was not strong enough to wear the armor or accurately aim my lance at a charging competitor. I spent four months in the gym strengthening my body and feasting
on protein and weight gainer.

I had many struggles during this time in my life. I lost many loved ones to death and divorce and was forced to make difficult changes. This particular day as I was in the gym, I was praying in my heart asking, "Heavenly Father, why is all of this happening?"

The Spirit whispered, "So you will be strong enough to wear armor." I realized that God was teaching me a parable. I had to put my physical body through uncomfortable strain, pressure and resistance in order to help my muscles get stronger. My trials were tools which put strain, pressure and resistance on me to help my spirit become stronger and more resilient. Feasting upon the scriptures was what fueled me much like feasting upon protein helped my muscles to grow.

To work out effectively, we push ourselves until we don't think we can go anymore. Then we go just a little farther. We also need to let our bodies rest before we push to the extreme again. Looking back on our lives, most of us can see a pattern with trials much like this. We are pushed until we don't think we can go no more, and then we are pushed a little further. Times of extreme trials are followed by brief periods of rest.

"When you push against the boundaries of experience into the twilight of the unknown, the Lord will strengthen you. The beauty of your eternal soul will begin to unfold." (Elder Richard G. Scott, Ensign, Nov. 2003, 41).

I didn't have to go through this all by myself. I had a trainer who encouraged me and educated me on nutrition and how to exercise effectively. We have prophets, apostles and other leaders who are like our trainers. If we listen and do what they ask us to do, we will get stronger. We need to trust them even if they ask us to do hard things or sacrifice something that is not good for us anyway.

As Latter Day Saints, we are on the frontline of the war against Satan. In the war against Satan, you do not want to ride into battle unprotected. We need to be refined and spiritually strong enough to wear the Armor of God.

"There has never been more expected of the faithful in such a short period of time than there is of us. Never before on the face of this earth have the forces of evil and the forces of good been so well organized. Now is the great day of the devil's power." (Ezra Taft Benson, "In His Steps," Ensign, Sep 1988, 2).

We know the outcome of the war. We know that God is going to win. Tools such as the Internet work for both sides. They can be tools of mass enlightenment from God or Satan's weapons of mass destruction. The battle has now come down to the individual. We must remember who we are.

"Though this world has a way of diminishing and demeaning men and women, the reality is we are all of royal, divine lineage." (Elder M. Russell Ballard, Ensign, May 2004, 86).

We are in the heat of the battle for which Satan and his armies have been preparing and perfecting their battle tactics for thousands of years. We too have been preparing for thousands of years before we were born to come to earth with a mortal body which would empower us to fight evil. Satan can not hurt us unless we let him.

In this battle against Satan, God has given us "Sacred Super Powers," which most Latter Day Saints call spiritual gifts or talents. Everyone is given different gifts and abilities. Every Latter Day Saint should use his or her gifts, time, talents and any other "Sacred Super Powers" to help build up and defend Heavenly Father's Kingdom.

"All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not. The devil has no power over us only as we permit him." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 181).

This story does have a happy ending. Six months after starting my training, I competed in a jousting tournament. What a rush! There is nothing like the feeling of being on a galloping war horse dressed in full armor. Just as I did well in the tournament, we will do well in our lives if we prepare to wear the armor of God. Like most journeys or quests in life, the prize I won was not nearly as valuable as the lessons I learned getting there.

"Great battles can make great heroes and heroines. We will never have a better opportunity to be valiant in a more crucial cause than in the battle we face today and in the immediate future. Some of the greatest battles we will face will be fought within the silent chambers of our own souls." (Ezra Taft Benson, "In His Steps," Ensign, Sep 1988, 2).

For more Spiritual Armor go to my website,, and click on "Spiritual Armor."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tapping In To Your Creative Self

By Julie Coulter Bellon

I am finishing another manuscript this week and part of me wonders, just as Sariah did, can I do this again? Can I create another story that other people will want to read?

As I was pondering this, I was intrigued by a question posed by one of the blog readers last week asking whether creativity is a different thing than inventiveness. I don’t think so. In the dictionary definition they seem interchangeable. The hard part for an author, I think, is finding a way to tap into the creative/inventive part of yourself so that you actually can create/invent something new.

So, as I’ve talked to friends this week and looked back over how I’ve tried to tap into that inventive side of me to create a story or scene, I did notice a few things that I thought I would share with you today.

1. Relax. The best ideas seemed to come to me when I am relaxed--which is sometimes hard to be with the everyday demands of life. I like to put on music when I write and that seems to help, and some writers I know do a series of stretching exercises to get in the zone. But this recommendation leads right in to number two.

2. Let go of fear and worry. If I am nervous that I can’t finish, meet my deadline, think of a story, or whatever, I might as well not even bother to sit down at the computer because I’ve already stunted whatever creativity I had. My creativity doesn’t seem to flow at all if I’m worried about something or someone. It’s hard, but try to put the worries aside. I think it was Kerry Blair who had a worry jar and she wrote everything down that she was worried about and put it in her jar for later. I thought that was a wonderful idea.

3. Sometimes it’s okay to be in a hurry. As a mother, my time at the computer is limited. There are times when all I can do is just hurry and type whatever is coming to my mind at the moment—like a strange free write in a way. I don’t go back and check, I just dump it all onto the screen. And when I come back to it, to sort it out and smooth it over, I find that some of my best ideas have been put onto that screen and just thrown out there.

4. Use your dreams. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dreamed of a scene or a bit of a character. Dreams can be very useful. Stephenie Meyer, the author of the Twilight series, said she dreamed of a field scene with Edward and Bella and that’s what started the first Twilight book for her which led to her being a published author.

5. Let your imagination run away. Since I am a suspense writer, I think of normal situations all the time and wonder what would happen if suddenly a bank robber ran into the bank I was walking into. What would I do? What if my children were with me? What would my first thoughts be? Or if a terrorist suddenly took over the church I was sitting in, what would happen? I admit, my imagination runs wild all the time and while I haven’t used everything I’ve ever imagined in my books, those scenes have translated into, well, that couldn’t happen, but this seems plausible.

6. Start gathering information, because random bits can take shape. For my new book, I was watching a documentary on television and got really interested in the topic so I decided to see just what sort of information was out there. It turned into an idea for a story and is now an almost complete manuscript. But sometimes even random bits of information can be an idea in embryo. You never know.

7. Let your thoughts wander. Sometimes if you can take a few moments to yourself and just let your thoughts go, you would be surprised with what you can come up with. One time, I overheard a comment that was made in a grocery story and the more I let my thoughts wander about that random comment, the more I imagined a character of mine saying it and it ended up as a scene in my book.

8. One of the best ways to tap into your creative self is to do something different–-go out and garden, take a walk, read something uplifting. It opens your mind and refreshes you and the results to your creative self can be something unexpected.

9. Talk to a friend. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bounced ideas off of my friends, especially friends who aren’t in the writing or publishing business, just to hear their thoughts, and that leads to something else, which has often turned into something more than I ever thought it could. For instance, I had an idea for a plot against the new French president, but when I went out to lunch with some friends and told them about it, they didn’t think it was believable enough and suggested several scenarios of their own, some that were quite silly, but were fun to talk about and try to imagine.

10. Do something you’ve never done before even if it’s reading a new blog or a newspaper from a different country. Almost all of the ideas for my books have come from newspaper articles that I’ve read or documentaries that I’ve watched. It will amaze you how when you read another perspective, it can jog things in your creative consciousness that can move a story forward.

Everyone’s creative process is different and not everything will work for everyone, but if you are starting a story, or are stuck in a particular part of your book, maybe try one of these suggestions and see if that doesn’t unlock some creativity in you. I know that these things have become a pattern in trying to tap my own creativity and they’ve helped me along, even on those days when I thought I didn’t have one more book left in me, or I couldn’t finish the manuscript I was working on and should just use it as a firestarter. I believe we are inherently creative beings. It’s just a matter of finding what works for you in tapping into your creative self.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Whitney Awards Gala -- Live Blogging

Knowing that many people who wanted tickets to the Whitney Awards Gala were turned away, and knowing that several finalist authors are eagerly awaiting the results, we have decided to live-blog at the gala.

Four people (Matthew Buckley, Tristi Pinkston, Jaime Theler, and Hilary Blair) will have laptops with them at the gala, and will update a blog throughout the night, posting thoughts, predictions, commentary, and results.

The live blogging will take place at, and begin this Saturday, March 22nd, at about 6:00pm.

Giving People the Willies

by Stephanie Black

My visiting teachers came yesterday. One of them is currently reading my new book. She didn’t read my first book, though she did give it as a gift to her in-laws (and they loved it—I just had to add that. They loved it! You will too! Buy it!) Anyway, this is her first exposure to my writing. Is it perchance giving her a new view of me? She remarked—in a friendly way--that I have a “dark mind.” Hmm.

In the same vein, my oldest daughter was listening to my book on audio last week. She heard me outside her door, so she opened it and informed me, “You are a flippin’ maniac.” She then came into my room and kept making frightened squeaky noises. Apparently I had succeeded in creeping her out. I’m kind of proud of that.

I also managed to geek her out at the mall the other week, though for a slightly different reason. We were shopping for prom dresses—trust me, the prom dresses for sale at the mall are far scarier than anything I’ve ever written—and as we were wandering hopelessly among racks of dresses with necklines so low they’d make the Mariana Trench look shallow, I got a wonderfully creepy idea for a little plot twist in my work-in-progress (no, it didn't have anything to do with prom dresses). I was pleased with the creepiness of the idea and kept thinking about it, which apparently gave me a zombie look. “Mom, stop thinking about your novel!” Well, sorry, but it was a cool idea (we found a dress, by the way. JCPenney, on sale. Perfect, except it was sleeveless. Apparently there has been a legislative ban on sleeves when it comes to prom dresses. So a friend in the ward, who is my new favorite person, sewed my daughter a darling jacket to match the dress so it was For-the-Strength-of-Youth. I am not good at sewing and hate it, so I was VERY grateful to my friend.)

Anyway. Since I write suspense, my VT’s and my daughter’s reactions to my book aren’t the first time I’ve gotten comments about my creepiness. (Just to clarify for anyone who hasn’t read my stuff, this is LDS fiction. We’re not talking Stephen King here. No icky, graphic violence or anything else that I wouldn’t let my Stake President read. But these are suspense stories; they’re meant to get your heart rate up and your adrenaline surging).

My current work-in-progress is pretty creepy too, but the creepiest thing about it at the moment is the fact that it’s an utter mess and I’m having trouble figuring out the climax. Maybe I should go to the mall again and see if a good idea comes to me. I’m sure my daughter would love that--especially the part where I wander around with glazed eyes.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The 2008 LDStorymakers Conference, an Insider's View

As Jeff mentioned yesterday, the annual LDStorymakers writers conference is this weekend. This is a really great event that has grown every year. And I'm honored and pleased to have the presidents of the organizing committee in the studio with us today for an interview. May I present to you: H.B. Moore (Heather) and Annette Lyon!

Rob: Thanks for being here, ladies!

Annette: No problem. I'm happy to be back. If you recall, I was here several months ago talking about... I can't remember. Something lame, probably.

Rob: We were talking about the role of Positioning in marketing, Annette. I'm kind of hurt that you don't remember. Consequently, my first question is for Heather Moore.

Heather: Hi.

Rob: Hello, Heather. What's the deal with the LDStorymakers name? I mean, seriously?

Heather: You raise an interesting question. What happened is this: we were going to call it something normal, like "The Guild of LDS Writers", but there was typo when we registered the domain name.

Rob: That's a pretty big typo. And aren't you two running an editing company?

Heather: Annette was in charge of that. It was all "Comma splice! Comma splice!" all day long--it's like she doesn't pay attention to anything else.

Annette: And, if I remember correctly, I was pretty drunk.

Rob: Understandable. So, Annette, my second question is for you: What's the deal with that double-duty S in LDStorymakers? Was that a typo, too?

Annette: Listen, Buster, I don't have all day to type every letter of every word. If I can cram a few together, great. Don't judge me.

Heather: She writes her name "Anete Lyon".

Rob: Perhaps she was named after Anete Jekabson, the famed Latvian basketball player?

Heather: Perhaps.

Rob: Moving on. The next question is for you, Annette. Who do you have picked to go all the way in March Madness?

Annette: Oh, I don't get into that thing, as evidenced by the fact that we scheduled the writers conference over the opening weekend.

Heather: Don't believe her, Rob.

Rob: Why's that?

Heather: She's teaching a punctuation class at the conference called "You Bet Your Backslash: How to Tell a Pilcrow from a Diaeresis."

Annette: And it's going to be awesome. Shut up. I mean it--SHUT UP.

Heather: Rob, when I asked her if she needed an overhead projector, she said she needed a TV that got ESPN.

Annette: I hate you, Heather Moore.

Rob: So, she knows that no one will go to such a boring class, so she can just sit in there and watch basketball?

Annette: And 13th-seed Oral Roberts will knock off Pittsburgh in the first round, baby!

Heather: [rolls eyes] Oral Roberts? Who did they beat this year? North Dakota State? SUU?

Annette: They're taller than Pitt up front, and the last time Pittsburgh played in the West they lost to Pacific.

Rob: Okay, back to the conference. I have another question, for either of you. How do you pick who's going to teach classes?

Heather: Well, some of them are easy choices. If we decide we want a slightly controversial class about some hare-brained idea, we ask Jeff. Or, if we need charismatic eye candy, we ask you, Rob.

Rob: Oh, you!

Annette: But some decisions are harder than others. Let's say we have a class about Dialogue. A million authors write dialogue.

Heather: Not non-fiction authors.

Annette: Can you even call them authors, though?

Heather: Those hacks.

Annette: Anyway, in the case that there's no clear choice, we try to find the least offensive author. You know--whichever one has the least body odor.

Rob: It kind of makes you wish that there were other authors who had controversial, hare-brained ideas.

Annette: I get a dozen emails every day that say that same thing.

Rob: I'm sure. So, final thoughts?

Heather: Grammar: who cares?

Annette: Jeff: holy lame.

Rob: Thanks!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Truely Great People I Get to Hang With

As some of you may know, this week is the (5th?) annual Storymakers writing conference, and the 1st annual Whitney awards. I’d just like to take a minute and thank the many people who have put in untold hours, money, and talent to make this possible. Take someone like Rob Wells who has spent more time this year than I’m sure he ever imagined for an award that he isn’t even eligible for. Or Annette Lyon and Heather (HB) Moore who worked tirelessly to bring top notch agents, editors, and guest speakers to the conference despite raising families with young kids, and writing books. Or authors like Kerry Blair and Tami Norton who traveled hundreds of miles to teach classes.

What do these people get out of this? Fame? Not when you’re talking about fewer than 200 hundred attendees. Of course that is an amazing number of attendees, but it sure isn’t going to make your book a best seller. (If you even have a new book out to promote.) Fortune? I don’t think I even have to explain that one. But let’s just say what they make in sales won’t even cover their gas. I mean shoot, they don’t even get an award named after them.

One do they get? More competition. Every year conference attendees end up publishing with LDS or national publishers. Major stress. Consider coordinating the meals, binders, schedules, rooms, and travel for close to 200 people of all levels of writing talent.

Okay, there is one thing they get out of it. The joy of seeing each other for what is often the only time each year, in kind of a bog family reunion. Lots of laughs. Stories that get passed down every conference—like Tristi’s fairy outfit or BJ surprising Rachel by running down the aisle in his Indian headdress, outfit, and war paint. And probably most important of all, the satisfaction of passing down some of the things they’ve learned over the years, and the talents they’ve been blessed with to a new group of authors.

Thanks all. There are too many of you to name individually, but it is an honor being associated with people as selfless and wonderful as you all. See you Friday.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

How Do You Start Over?

by Sariah S. Wilson

I think it's a question that many writers struggle with. I know that you all are of course much better than I am, and don't let too much time lapse without writing. But a fair amount of time has passed since I sat down to write a book.

I find self-doubt creeping in. Can I really do this again? How did I manage it the first three times? I know better. My mind says, you know where self-doubt comes from. People ask me why I write for the LDS market. I do hope someday to write nationally, but I hope to continue to write for my LDS publisher as well. Why? Well, part of it was a promise made to me in a blessing. I hope to be able to do some good, to maybe help someone escape their burdens for a couple of hours. So I know who wants me to doubt myself. But that doesn't make the doubt go away.

But I'm finding it really hard to overcome. I'm finding it hard to begin. I know that part of that is because I am something of a perfectionist. I want every word to be right from the beginning. I hate massive revising. I don't do it. If you compared my first draft with the final novel, I think you wouldn't find that many differences. So if I don't know exactly what I'm going to do, it is hard for me to start.

I also find that a baby sort of sucks all my creative energy from me. I care for her all day, she goes to bed, and I spend the rest of the time with my husband and my children and doing the things I couldn't do while she was awake. And if I'm able to find some time for myself, all the better. It's hard to imagine doing one more thing. Particularly since it is something now that is my job. I no longer do it just for me. Now there are expectations and an editor waiting. It puts a whole new pressure on you. I keep thinking this particular aspect will improve, but she's nearly ten months old now.

I'm also in a position that many other authors are in - there's too many ideas. There are too many books, too many possibilities. And as you try to carve out a career for yourself, you have to decide if *this* is the book you want to write because that is the type of book you will be writing for a long time. This is a little different in the LDS market, but if I want to write something not LDS, then this is a serious decision that has to be made. So instead of just making it, I find myself waffling back and forth.

I feel like I'm standing on top of a precipice. I've made this leap at least three times before. I know what it feels like, what will happen when I reach the end. It's just difficult right now to conceive of stepping off the edge.

My question then to you is, have you ever been in a similar situation? How did you cope? What decisions did you make? What helped you press on to take that leap? How do you start all over again? And does this feeling ever go away?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Write the Best Book First

by Kerry Blair

As much as I look forward to the next General Conference, I don’t know how it could be more meaningful to me than the last one. My husband, two youngest children and I crammed into a small, smelly motel room in Yuma, Arizona to watch the Sunday morning session on a too-bright television screen with poor reception. The apostles looked like Wiggles when I squinted, and I squinted a lot because of joyful tears welling in my eyes. I’d been weeping for hours. The night before, my youngest son had stepped off a plane onto American soil, safe and sound—body and soul—after a long, heart-wringing tour in Iraq.

As you might recall, the first speaker that morning was President Henry B. Eyring. He told about returning home late one day to find his father-in-law performing an act of service at their home. As he entered the house the Spirit told him: I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.

Never one to ignore God, President Eyring took out pen and paper and began to write. He continued the practice every day for years, never missing a day regardless of how busy or weary he was. He said: As I kept at it, something began to happen . . . I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized . . . As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done. More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers . . . I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance—even things we did not notice or pay attention to when they happened.

I was thrilled. It was testimony from a prophet of God about a principal that had profoundly shaped my life. The Spirit spoke to me that morning and I determined to finally pass on the greatest blessing in my life. Within a week I bought each of my children a “gratitude journal” in which to record the tender mercies manifest in their lives. I gave them the books, with my testimony, at Christmas. I don’t know if any of them are keeping a record, faithfully or otherwise, but I do know that if they are, it will turn out to be the best gift I’ve given them since that “life” thing.

I started a gratitude journal when I was in third grade, though I didn’t know to call it that then. They had yet to become trendy and inspire software programming. (I suspect even Oprah hadn’t thought of doing it, and she was already in junior high!) Mine began serendipitously. I was an avid treasure hunter. On my longish walks to and from school, I searched the breadth of the path through the “woods,” and the depths of the gutters that lined the paved street. Each day I spied bits of colored glass, pretty rocks, sometimes even a barrette or mummified beetle. I never picked anything up. In fact, I often dropped a shiny penny or thimble or something equally valuable along the way. (I not only believed whole-heartedly in Borrowers and fairies and displaced leprechauns, I thought they relied on my generosity to survive.) My satisfaction came in faithfully listing every treasure I saw in my Red Man tablet. (This, youngsters, is a pad of lined paper with a red cover that depicted an Indian chief in full headdress. They don’t make them anymore, and if it’s culturally insensitive even to mention them in 2008, accept my apologies.)

As the days passed, I progressed from listing joys I found in the dirt to enumerating less tangible blessings that brought me happiness. A list from an actual third-grade Red Man dated September 22:

1) Suzie Hicks picked ME. (Presumably for a team.)
2) ding dong in my lunch!!!!!!!
3) 100 spelling!!! (Presumably a quiz, but it could have been a new list of words and I’d have been just as pleased. I loved spelling!)
4) Peanuts doesnt stink. as much. (Peanuts was my dog. I’m guessing she was de-skunkified by my father while I was at school.)
5) Friday!!!! (I’m not quite as enthused these days. It has something to do with blogging, I fear.)

I think we’d all acknowledge that these are major mercies to an eight-year-old. Funny thing, I can look back on them years and years (and years and years and years!) later and still feel happy and blessed and loved by my Father in Heaven all over again.

I’ve kept these lists on-and-off for most of my life. As I matured, the red tablets became green spiral notebooks, and then flowered diaries, and at last hardbound journals – dozens of them. The blessings I’ve listed have ranged from ridiculous (“only TWO pimples”) to life-altering (“first missionary lesson—amazing”) to sublime (“Scott was born today”)

I write down five things every single day, no matter what. (Why five? Who knows? I aimed for five treasures every day in 3rd grade and it stuck with me, I guess.) There are days when I’ve thanked God that my daughter’s surgery was successful; my son returned from Iraq; my very life was spared in an accident. And there are the “mundane” days when I have to pause to think before putting pen to paper. Sometimes these days are the best of all because it is then that I might be inspired to remember a special friend, acknowledge a rare beauty of creation, or finally jot down one of the hundreds of mercies I take for granted that are in reality the basis of all the joy and meaning in my life.

Elder Eyring continued: My point is to urge you to find ways to recognize and remember God’s kindness. (Note: this is my point, too, in case you’re missing it!) It will build your testimonies . . . You will be blessed as you remember what the Lord has done. You remember that song we sometimes sing: “Count your many blessings; name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”

Counting my blessings—literally, every day—has truly been surprising. It’s also been the best antidote in the world for self-pity and discouragement. On “down” days I can hold a gratitude journal in my hand and see and feel and smell and even taste (if I want to) tangible proof that the Lord is mindful of me—always. I can open any book to any page on any day and be reminded of how good life is—even on days when it isn’t. (Especially on days when it isn’t.)

Henry David Thoreau advised: Read the best books first or you may never have time to read them at all. I think this behooves us as writers as well. If we write the best books first, our gratitude journals, we will be greatly blessed in whatever we turn to next.
It’s possible, I suppose, that someday somebody in heaven (probably Orson Whitney. Or maybe Rob Wells) might pick up one of our novels and comment on it. It’s probable, however, that our journals will be read—aloud—and that it will be from those sacred pages that we are measured.

I wish I could give each of you a gratitude journal like I did my kids. At least I can accomplish the same thing by making those of you who don’t already have one promise me that you’ll find something today, if only a notepad, and list five blessings. Do it again tomorrow. Do it faithfully every day between now and Conference. If you do, come that Saturday morning, you won’t be the same person you are at this moment. I promise.

But, hey, you don’t have to believe me. You have the word of an apostle of God on it. Offers simply don’t come with better guarantees than that!

Just do it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fan the Creative Flames

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I was listening to a discussion a few weeks ago about whether a formal education and/or an English degree would actually stifle a writer’s creativity. I found the argument quite interesting.

As a writer who has an English degree, I have to say that I’m glad that I do. I was exposed to classical literature, modern literature, grammar classes, writing theory classes, and of course required to write many, many papers. I learned about how other writers approached the creative process, characterizations, themes, and plots. My professors did an amazing job in bringing long-dead authors and their works to life and when I graduated, one of the highlights of that time in my life was taking a trip to England and walking the halls of Oxford, touring Shakespeare’s childhood home, seeing where Dickens lived and many other tourist sites of authors I’d only read about. I’d always been a writer and loved writing, but my education only deepened and broadened my view of writing. My creativity seemed to be sparked as I attended classes and thought about characters of my own that I wanted to create and plots that could work. It was motivating and exhilarating for me. I’d seen the example of others and I was primed and ready to follow my own dreams.

So, in my experience, an English degree didn’t stifle my creativity in the least, in fact, it seemed to be ignited even more. But do I think a writer needs a formal education to be a writer? No. I do recommend, however, that a writer do a few things to educate themselves and improve their writing.

1. Read. Read all different kinds of genres, read fiction, non-fiction, writing books, anything that will inspire you in your writing endeavors and of course, just reading for the love of reading. You can live a million lives through books and you can feel the creative juices run through you when a book particularly excites your creative process. See what’s out there, especially in the genre you want to write in. It can be eye-opening when you see what is or isn’t out there and where your writing might fit.

2. Find or put together a writer’s group that can read what you’re writing, give an honest critique and help you improve.

3. Where possible, take a community education class on writing. It can help immensely to be reminded of current writing practices and have a teacher to bounce ideas off of for your best seller.

4. Watch people around you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been people watching and an idea for a particular character has come to me. (Don’t just sit and stare at people though. They get annoyed and think you’re a stalker or something.)

5. Listen to the voice inside you. I believe that we all have a creative voice inside of us that sometimes nags us to write down that idea you dreamed about, that encourages you to live your dream of writing no matter how long it’s been or how old you are, and reminds you that no matter how educated you are the voice will not be stifled.

Of course I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to earn an English degree and even though I'm no longer a student at a university, I still do all those things I mentioned above. I don’t believe that any education stifles creativity, I think just the opposite. Education of any sort, formal or informal, becomes a foundation that can support your efforts and reinforce that you can achieve your goals. It can fan the flames of creativity and allow you more freedom to do what you want to do. If nothing else, doing something for yourself expands your horizons and gives you experiences you can incorporate into your writing. Because, as a wise friend once told me, a sheltered writer is a boring writer and you wouldn’t want to be that!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

They're Here!

by Stephanie Black

My books arrived yesterday! (And here I’d been thinking I needed to watch for the UPS truck, when as it turned out, they came Fed Ex ground. That’s almost enough to make me feel guilty about the way I spent the past few days with my arms flung around the leg of the UPS man as I begged him for packages.). Kerry tells me that I promised a picture of this momentous occasion, and though I’m not sure that’s strictly true (okay, I talked about pictures, but did I promise one?) here’s a picture because I want to remain in Kerry’s good graces. Okay, so the picture’s a little cheesy. And yes, of course it was staged. I told you it would be. I didn’t even have makeup on when the box arrived.

I actually got my hands on a copy of my book before the box arrived. On Monday, a friend and I drove up to Seagull Book (about twenty-five minutes away). Yes, folks, I went to the bookstore and bought my own book and it was dang fun, not just because I got to hold my book for the first time, but also because I got to see the book on the shelves, which is a thrill. I also got to purchase a copy of Kerry's Counting Blessings. Hooray! I also got to chat with a delightful bookstore employee who had just finished listening to Fool Me Twice on audio and enjoyed it.

I’ve been listening to the audio myself, and the actress, Kathryn Laycock Little, does a great job. I think the people who read books for audio are magical geniuses. I can read The Cat in the Hat with feeling, but I’d have no idea how to record a novel for audio—how to create different voice styles for different characters, how to read tense scenes so they come across as dramatic but not overdone, and so on. I think it’s marvelous what a good actor or actress can do when reading a book, so thank you, Kathryn!

Last night was Enrichment meeting, and we were supposed to offer a “gift of service.” This could be absolutely anything that we could do for someone else—some homemade cookies, an offer to drive someone to the airport, handmade cards, an offer to teach someone how to use Excel, and so on. I decided to offer a copy of my book—my service was to entertain someone for a few hours. Okay, maybe it was a little unusual, but the sisters seemed to like it. I even wrapped it up cute-like in cellophane (come on, it’s Relief Society. Cellophane and bows are mentioned in the scriptures, you know). I suspect that I had had more fun last night than my daughters, who were babysitting in the RS Enrichment nursery. When I returned to the nursery after the meeting ended, I found that they had written some rules on the board:

Laws (Cardinal Rules for the Babysat):

1. No killing.
2. No climbing.
3. No beating.
4. No hiding.
5. Habeas corpus hereby suspended.

Sounds like they had fun, eh?

T Minus Ten Days

The Whitney Awards are coming in ten days! Can you believe it? I sure as heck can't. It's enough to give me a panic attack.

If you're coming, here's a sneak preview. If you're not coming, looking at how awesome this is will surely make you depressed.

Click on any of the images to make them bigger (and, hopefully, readable).

Monday, March 10, 2008

In Search of Buzz

I am posting this link similtaneously on my Find Your Magic blog and here, because I'd like to get feedback from as many bloggers and blog readers as possible. I plan on making the same offer from both sites, if I go forward with the plan.

It looks like the scheduled on sale date for Farworld is September 5th. Basically, that’s about six months until the first book hits store shelves, give or take a week. Between now and then, my publisher will be busy with things like finishing up the artwork, doing final edits, collecting the blurbs, printing ARCs (advance reader copies), and creating posters and bookmarks.

Shadow Mountain has done a great job of building up a name for themselves in the YA fantasy market with Leven Thumps, Fablehaven, and now The 13th Reality. Leven Thumps has sold hundreds of thousands, Fablehaven hit the NY Times bestseller list for children’s books, and even though The 13th Reality has just been released, it is selling well, and Borders has decided to feature it for the month of April in their “New Voices” section.

Onece Farworld comes out, Shadow Mountain will send me on a two week multi-city tour where I will visit lots of schools and do lots of book signings. In addition, Shadow Mountain will have ARCs of my book at BEA (Book Expo America, the largest book show in the US,) and several other shows. Clearly this is all a dream come true for me. Unless the Earth spins off its axis in the next six months, I should be selling a bunch of books in the fourth quarter of this year.

The question is, what do I do for the next six months? The book is written. Other than final edits of the galleys, I’m not changing the story at all. Of course as an author, you always think of things you’d like to do better. But based on getting a lot of feedback from a lot of readers, I think people will find this book exciting. I’ve spent a lot of time studying reviews of other YA fantasy novels, and the three biggest complaints I see are: “Not enough depth to the characters.” “Too slow.” And, “More suited to younger kids.”

I think I’ve avoided all of those pitfalls. Marcus and Kyja are not cardboard characters. They deal externally and internally with real issues. I’ve had many, many adults tell me they liked the book at least as much as their kids. I’m not going for silly with this series. And if there isn’t enough action in this book, you may need to read it while swimming with killer sharks or something. So the writing will either sink or swim.

But I don’t want to just sit back and wait. I’ve been racking my brain trying to think what I can do to help build up momentum until then. I think the bottom line is that word of mouth is what will sell the book. If I’m right, and my book is good, people will tell other people. Hopefully I’ll get good reviews for some of the biggies like Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. But what can I do to get the ball rolling until then? How do you create word of mouth before your book is out?

The first thing I did was to start this blog. If I keep the content fresh and helpful, people should start telling other people and the number of visitors will steadily increase. That seems to be happening. For me, the concept of the internet is fascinating. As I look at the map of who is visiting my site, I see people from all over the world and most of the regions in the US. Is there a way I can use that to start building up what industry people call buzz?

Here’s what I’m thinking, and I want you to brainstorm right along with me. The best way to get the word out is to approach the people who talk to the most people. If I were already a big name or had unlimited time and money, I’d start traveling across the country right now. I don’t have money, but I do have ARCs that will be available in May. Shadow Mountain prints a ton of these. I’m not sure they want me to say exactly how many they send out, but it is quite a few. They will send out copies to all the big book reviewers both on-line and in print.

Again, if my book is as good as I think it is, that should generate some talk. But what about a grass roots effort? What about all the people who have blogs, but aren’t huge reviewers? I think I’ll probably have 100-200 books that I can give out. Let’s say I gave out 200 books to people who have their own blogs. If each of those blogs averaged say thirty unique visitors (some will have many more, some will have less) I could reach 6,000 people before my book even comes out.

Honestly, if you sold 6,000 books your first week, you’d probably hit the NYT. Of course I’m not naïve enough to think all 6,000 people would rush out to buy my book. But it’s definitely better than just sitting back and waiting. So the next question is, how can I reach those people and what can we do to make the blog posts interesting enough to get some attention?

Here’s where I need your help. I’m still pretty new to this blogging stuff (at least on a national level), but I know many of you spend quite a bit of time with your own blogs and reading others. What if I did this?

Let’s say I offer a free ARC to anyone who agrees to read the book and do a review along with a Q&A on their blog between the first of July and the end of August? I think they call this a blog tour or a virtual tour. I send you the book and you send me questions, Whatever questions you want, writing questions, questions about the books, silly questions, serious questions, whatever. I’ll send you back my answers and you agree to post a review and the Q&A on your blog starting July first.

Obviously I expect you to say what you really think about the book. If you love it, great. If you don’t love it so much, then say what you didn’t like. In addition, what if I could get enough extra ARCs so you could give out one free copy to someone who comments on your post? Do a random drawing, best comment, whatever. I’d even have the book drop shipped for you to the person who won it.

It seems to me that if I did this, it would really help get the word out. I honestly don’t know if I’d get tons of bloggers interested or only a handful. What I’m thinking I would do is take a date like the middle of April and announce that I would send out books to the first two hundred people who sent me the name of their blog and their mailing address.

I’d definitely get some overlap on blogs, but maybe we could try to schedule dates so everyone didn’t blog at the same time. And by doing different questions and answers, it could make the blogs unique enough that readers might read more than one post.

Oh, and for those of you who don’t have blogs, I could do some kind of drawing here as well as the chance you’d have to win a book off someone else’s blog. In fact I could do a daily link of everyone who is taking part in the tour so people could go from my blog to their blogs to try and win a book there or just check out the other cool blogs.

So what do you think? Would this work? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your comments, and I’m really looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Skins of Blackness

By Sariah S. Wilson

First off, I’m not trying to be controversial. I definitely do not have all the answers (I don’t even have a small portion of them), but I had this conversation with Dr. Joseph L. Allen on the bus ride to the airport that gave me a new perspective on a passage of scripture that I’d always had a hard time wrapping my head around. So I am not trying to offend anyone, I am sharing something I learned, some new ideas that I’d never considered before, and wanted to explore a little further. I'm not a scholar, nor do I claim any academic pretensions of any sort. Please be kind. :)

Culturally and traditionally within our church, there has been a perception that Lamanites = dark, Nephites = white. It is not endemic to North America alone – my experiences in Guatemala showed me that it is a perception held by people there as well.

I’ve always had some issues with the cursing of Laman and Lemuel’s descendants. Because to me, the scriptures show that there weren’t vast physical differences between Lamanites and Nephites.

The best example of this to me is this passage from Alma 55:4-8:

4 And now it came to pass that when Moroni had said these words, he caused that a search should be made among his men, that perhaps he might find a man who was a descendant of Laman among them.

5 And it came to pass that they found one, whose name was Laman; and he was one of the servants of the king who was murdered by Amalickiah.

6 Now Moroni caused that Laman and a small number of his men should go forth unto the guards who were over the Nephites.

7 Now the Nephites were guarded in the city of Gid; therefore Moroni appointed Laman and caused that a small number of men should go with him.

8 And when it was evening Laman went to the guards who were over the Nephites, and behold, they saw him coming and they hailed him; but he saith unto them: Fear not; behold, I am a Lamanite. Behold, we have escaped from the Nephites, and they sleep; and behold we have taken of their wine and brought with us.

So Moroni wants to infiltrate the City of Gid. His plan is to drug the Lamanite guards to get inside and rescue the prisoners. He starts a search among his men to see if he can find a descendant of Laman to act as his undercover agent. This is where many readers start glossing over the text. Oh, a descendant of Laman. That’s because Lamanites had dark skin, so he had to find one that looked the part, right?

The problem is, the next two verses refute that position. It goes on to say that Moroni found one. Not two, not three, not twelve, but one Lamanite, a man named Laman (who has a definite grudge since he was framed for murdering his king).

So we have only one Lamanite, and yet Moroni sends “a small number of his men” with Laman. How many the scriptures don’t say. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s say six, because war zones and jungles are dangerous places and Laman had an important mission.

We know that Moroni’s men weren’t Lamanites because Moroni’s already found the one Lamanite. They must then be Nephites.

I have a hard time imagining that one supposedly dark-skinned Lamanite and six supposedly light-skinned Nephites show up to the City of Gid and none of the Lamanite guards are remotely suspicious. Had it been solely skin color that was the difference, the jig would have been up pretty fast.

So then you might argue, well, maybe Laman approached the city alone while the guards stayed hidden. Possible. But the problem with that is Laman speaks to the guards in verse 8 in plural. Not “I have escaped” but “we have escaped.” Not “I have taken” but “we have taken.”

He identifies himself because it was the language that exposed the difference between the two cultures. By speaking, Laman eases their minds and tells them he is a Lamanite and since he had lived among that people his whole life, spoke the language fluently. The Nephite guards, wisely enough, stay silent, as speaking would have given away their identities.

I also consider the fact that inhabitants of Jerusalem at 600 B.C. were not Caucasian. It is also worth pointing out that there were no “black”-skinned inhabitants among the people in Central America (they were more stunned by the skin color of the African slaves than they were by the skin of the European Spaniards).

I also think that there were lots and lots and lots of people in Central America already when Nephi and his family showed up. (The numbers in Nephi simply don’t make sense without an already existing population. Add to that that the Lord doesn’t usually send his prophets to places without people to teach, and I think we have a whole lot of civilization already happening before the arrival.) I think both groups intermarried with different tribes, and that there were a wide variety of skin colors and tones.

But Dr. Allen taught me a couple of interesting things. The first is that as Americans we tend to think X equals X. But that among the Hebrews and the Maya, X equals X and Y, and sometimes Z, A, and B too. It is all about duality. He used the story of Ammon as an example. That was something secular which literally happened (as we perceive it and the extent to which we consider the tale), but he said think of the duality of that story. The flocks being encircled and protected. Who else encircles and protects flocks? It’s symbolic of Christ. If all things in the scriptures point to Him (as they repeatedly say) then we need to start looking for the duality of meanings in the scriptures.

First is the word skin. We take it to mean actual skin like we have on our bodies. That is one possibility. I consider that one of the Hebrew words for skin is OR (‘or spelled ayin vav resh). OR (‘or (aleph vav resh)) is also a Hebrew word for light and according to one site (from the Rashi-is-Simple mailing list) ayin vav resh in the masculine connotes blindness. When the Lord clothed Adam, it was with a coat of skins. Coat also means tunic or garment. So while the Lord may have literally clothed Adam with a physical covering of animal skins, there may be a deeper meaning there. The Lord may have “clothed” Adam in a covering of blindness or in a body of lesser light than one he had previously had. Interesting, huh?

We take the Lamanites. As with Pharaoh of old, they are cursed. Did the Lord curse Pharaoh or did Pharaoh curse himself? Did the Lord curse Laman and Lemuel or did they curse themselves? The answer to me is that Laman and Lemuel cursed themselves with their choices.

So if you have made a decision, made a choice, then you are actively doing something. Laman and Lemuel could have made decisions that explain the curse. A skin of blackness could have very easily been something they clothed themselves in. Black jaguars were not unusual then – game and predators were abundant at the arrival of Lehi’s family. As wearing the skin of jaguar signified your prowess as a hunter (which Laman and Lemuel became extremely adept at while the Nephites became farmers) and as a warrior, it is not implausible to me that this could have happened. Skin painting was also very common. Perhaps they became king over a tribe that painted their skin a dark color.

I also have to take into account that the Lord, at that point, had been left by Laman and Lemuel. They had hardened their hearts “like unto flint.” I find it a little unbelievable that they would have simply woken up one day to find their DNA totally altered. Of course nothing is impossible with the Lord, but He works through natural means. And if He was no longer a presence in Laman and Lemuel’s lives by their choice, why would He have worked something so miraculous that they couldn't have denied?

But to me the most plausible explanation for this phrase (and using that duality that Dr. Allen talked about) is the spiritual one.

When we speak of Christ, how is He described by those who have seen him? They usually use things like exceedingly white, glory and brightness beyond description, etc. It may not be that his robes or face are literally white, but that there is such a dazzling brightness that “white” is the only term people can use to describe it in the English language.

We use words like pure, bright, clean, fair, white when speaking of positive spiritual connections.

What words do we use when we speak of someone’s spirituality who has moved far away from Christ? Dark. Loathsome. Filthy. Black. (Opposition in all things, right? Let’s not forget the significance of that to the Nephite historians.)

This may be a description of their spiritual countenances, of their moving away from the Lord and the truth into unbelief and wicked traditions. Or the OR (in this instance meaning light), the lightness of their previous spirituality, their connection to the Lord, became black.

Whatever mark existed, I don’t believe that Nephites and Lamanites had different skin color. The groups were delineated by their political choices, their language, and their religious beliefs.

Just a possibility to consider.

Friday, March 07, 2008

There Is Yet Another New Babe in the Woods today

by Kerry Blair

You know that scene at the beginning of Dumbo where all the animals sit around, looking up and waiting for the stork to bring their new arrivals? I can’t help but think about that in relation to our blog. I’ll never be in Sariah or Julie’s shoes again, but like Jeff and Stephanie, I am awaiting a new little addition to my bookshelf. I have a fully-charged camera, a clean resting place for the little darling, and even a stack of “birth” announcements. Everything is ready and waiting – especially me! Where is that stupid book stork, anyway?

This is not a new or even an original analogy. I’ve often heard authors – female authors, at least – compare their freshly-printed books to newborn babies. As a mother of four children and author of ten books, let me assure you it’s not quite that incredible. But it is thrilling. And every single time it happens, I’m amazed and grateful and surprised all over again.

I’ve long identified with a feeling expressed by Sir James Barrie, author of Peter Pan. After describing the harrowing delivery of Auld Licht Idylls, he wrote: “For several days after my first book was published, I carried it around in my pocket and took surreptitious peeks at it to be sure the ink had not faded.” That’s exactly how I feel!

When the FedEx stork finally arrives, you can count on me to carry my new delivery around for awhile, taking peeks now and then to check its coloring and make sure it has all its little periods and commas in the right places. I might even wrap it up and take it to church on Sunday to show it off to my visiting teachers – and anybody else I can corner in the hallway on the way to Primary. I can certainly count on it to be well-behaved. It will not spit up, drool on my dress, nor cry loud enough to wake the high priests. And while it probably could use a change, there’s nothing I can do about that at this late date.

My main concern is that, like Dumbo and other tragic children of lit, it will be an offspring only its mother will love. It is, after all, a book of nonfiction – an oddity around here. Since all its siblings at home - and cousins here on the blog - are novels, how will it possibly fit in? Will the other books make fun of it? What if they mock its essays? Envy its hardcover? Laugh at its long name, sneering over the pretention of calling it witty or wise? (I never called it that, BTW. Please direct jeers toward Covenant’s title committee.) Worse, what if it’s scorned by society at large and soon sent to languish in the obscurity of a dark, dreary warehouse? Can’t you see it now? “Please, sir. I want some more.” (Marketing, that is.)

Nevertheless, it’s on its way into the world as we speak. (And I thought it was hard when one of my children merely went to Iraq.) If it’s true that “children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see,” are not books the written messages we send to people and places we may never see? What a blessing it is, then, when they report back!

While I was sitting here this morning writing this blog, I received my first two “letters from the mission field.” Books grow up really fast! (As Groucho Marx said, “A five-year-old could follow my reasoning; please find a five-year-old to explain it to you.) Just last night, a couple of strangers in Utah adopted the book I have not yet seen, took it home, and wrote this morning to say how much they like it. I cried. (Gratitude; joy; that kind of thing. While people are usually too polite to go out of their way to point out the deformities and shortcomings they find in your children, this is not always true of your books.) One lady was really gushy! She concluded her e-mail with, “I’ve already copied the essay about the church and sent it to everybody in my address book. I hope you don’t mind. I feel like I’ve known you all my life.”

I don’t mind. Many of the pieces in Counting Blessings were on the Internet to begin with – right here on the Frog Blog, in fact. If it weren’t for The Frog . . . and Sariah, and Jeff, and Jennie, and Stephanie, and you . . . I would have no new book. I’m so grateful, and I want to show it. While you can’t give away a child (as much as you want to some days) you can give away a book. To follow the example of wise and wonderful LDS Publisher, everyone who has commented on any post on this blog this week, or who comments on any post next week, is eligible for a drawing for a free copy.

All I ask if you win - or if you stumble upon Counting Blessings on a shelf somewhere out in the big, wide world - is that you pat it on the head and speak a word of encouragement or two. (It would be even better if you took it home! Hint. Hint.) After all, it’s new and small and very insecure -- just a babe in the woods of publishing.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Ta-Da! I Have Something to Show You . . .

by Julie Coulter Bellon

As most of you know, I changed publishing companies last summer and have been working on getting my new novel out. Well, I finally have something to share with the class.

My new book cover! Ta-da!

Dr. Brandon Shepherd is finishing out his tour of duty at a small medical outpost in al-Qaim, Iraq. During an emergency evacuation of two wounded soldiers, the helicopter carrying him and his colleague, Dr. Rachel Fielding, is shot down and they are captured by insurgents. They are chained to a wall and faced with an impossible choice. Can they escape before they are forced to do something no patriotic American would ever do?

Back in the States, political opponents Kristen Shepherd and Ryan Jameson are squaring off over a heated campaign. When Kristen finds out her brother Brandon has been kidnapped, both Kristen and Ryan band together and use all of their political connections to find him. They soon find themselves swept up in international intrigue that could cause Kristen to lose everything she holds dear. Will she risk it all to bring her family together once again?

All's Fair is a book of suspense, adventure and romance that will keep you guessing until the last page. Is all really fair in love and war? Only you can decide.

It's set for release this summer and I can't wait for all of you to read it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Oh-oh the Wells Fargo Wagon is A-Coming

by Stephanie Black

Fool Me Twice
has been released! Hooray! So now I am awaiting . . . the UPS truck!

I like UPS trucks. We see a lot of them at Christmastime when we do some online shopping, but even when I haven’t ordered anything and it isn’t anywhere near Christmas or my birthday (so I know no one is sending me a present) UPS trucks are still cool. And now I’m expecting the most exciting package of all—a box of author’s copies of my new book.

There’s nothing quite like that moment when you open the box and take out your book—it’s here! It’s real. With my first book, I remember how amazing it was to flip through the pages and see MY words printed on the pages of a BOOK! Those words I’d typed in my word processor were now between two covers, just like the books I saw in bookstores or at the library. I was published! Wahoo!

So in the next few days, maybe I’ll experience an adrenaline-laced moment when I see the brown truck driving up the street and . . . it’s . . . stopping . . . at . . . the neighbor’s house. Phooey. Or I’ll come home from grocery shopping and—can it be?—a box on my porch . . . is it my books? I’ll trip over my children and scatter boxes of cereal and cartons of eggs over the lawn in my haste to examine the box. Or no—I’ll feign casual coolness. “Oh, a box? Hmm, it’s probably a bag of sea salt and some non-diastatic malt powder for Dad’s bread-baking. Well, I suppose (checking my watch) that I’ve got time (yawn) to go see what it is.”

When the books arrive, I should film the moment for posterity, except my posterity would be probably spend the film giggling at early twenty-first century fashions (sort of the way my children react now to those early nineties photos when a permanent wave had given me what we call “Triangle Hair.”) Besides, chances are that when the box arrives, I’ll be wearing a salsa-stained shirt from lunch, no makeup and my hair will be weird (but not triangular).

I think I’ll stage a photo later. I’ll dress up nicely, empty half a bottle of hairspray onto my head, kneel next to the box and have my daughter snap a photo of me taking out a book. Then I’ll send the picture to my sister and she’ll Photoshop it so I have Cindy Crawford hair and Julia Roberts lips, and so on. Then I’ll post it on my website. Of course, this could raise awkward questions when readers meet me in person (“So . . . that picture on your website. Was that, like, taken fifteen years ago? And is it of someone else?”) But oh well. Who says photos need to be true-to-life? I specialize in fiction.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Great New Pants

My wife bought me a new pair of pants, and I really do have to say that I like them.

They're jeans, although I don't know the brand (I think that's written on the back, and since I'm wearing them the name's a little hard to see). They're also the most expensive pair of jeans I've ever owned--they were originally $39, but they were on sale for $30. Granted, that's not exactly Girbaud prices--hello, 1989!--but it's twice what I normally pay for jeans. In fact, she told me that she bought them at Macy's, and my first question was "Maceys, the grocery store?" Because, really, if you don't buy your clothes at the grocery store, then you're spending too much money.

My wife's dad used to buy pants at Sutherland's--a lumber store. I like to buy them at Wal-Mart. And not the fancy, expensive Wal-Mart jeans, either. I buy the cheapest thing they sell. If they sold pants woven out of brown paper bags, I'd buy them. Perhaps this is why my wife decided it was time to do my shopping for me.

I have a little rule which makes my wife's life harder than it ought to be. It is this: "If you're going to get me a present, it had dang well better not be clothes."

I mean, I'm not exactly a fashion mess--I'm not like many of my fellow BYU students who show up to class in their pajamas--but I also think that clothing ought to be practical. If I can get a shirt for $10 and another shirt for $30, I'll take the $10 variety. As long as it keeps me warm and isn't too offensive, I'm okay with it.

That said, I'm liking the new pants. They're boot-cut, because my wife was apparently under the impression that I'm a cowboy. But no, I don't wear boots. In fact, I own just two pairs of shoes--sneakers for every day, and the Payless Specials for Sunday. But I'm liking the boot-cut; when I look down at my feet they look really small, because the pantleg is big. I don't know why this pleases me, but it does.

Also, I've discovered that more-expensive jeans fit better than cheap jeans. With my Wal-Mart jeans, they fit really poorly for about three months, after which they finally conform to my body. Then, a week later, they get a rip in the knee.

These new ones also had a tag on them saying that the the cotton contained dyes which could rub off onto stuff--it warned me to try to not let my pants come into contact with upholstery. What the heck? So, I can't ride in my car? Sit on my couch?

Ah well. Standing all day is a small price for having small feet.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, thousands of people are plotting to destroy the U.S.A. But, for now, I sure do like my pants!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Does Your Novel Have MICE?

A lot of times writers are unclear on where their novel should start and end. I don’t mean the first paragraph or page per se. That’s really more of a choice of what will hook the reader. What I’m talking about is the point of focus of the novel in which the story itself actually begins. I’ll be discussing this in more detail at the Storymakers conference, but here is a brief example of what I am talking about.

A good novel should usually have at least three storylines. Too many storylines, and you risk losing the reader’s focus. Too few and you go from a novel to a tale. Each storyline must start and stop at the proper point, in order to give your novel a good flow.

Orson Scott Card divides stories into four types, which he calls the MICE quotient. Stories can either be milieu (place driven), idea driven, character driven, or event driven.

A good example of a milieu driven story is Lord of the Rings. In a place driven story, the story is about exploring a place unfamiliar to the main character. The story begins with the discovery of the new world and ends with the wrap-up of the world. People who complained the third LOTR movie had too many endings didn’t understand that the story was not about the ring. Therefore it didn’t end with the ring’s destruction. It didn’t end with Frodo returning home, because it wasn’t about him. It was about the world, which is why we needed to find out everything that happened to the world.

An idea driven story is a story that revolves around a problem. In a mystery, a person may be killed. The story ends when the killer is caught, killed, escapes, or in some way leaves the story. Idea stories typically have lots of false turns and red herrings. Characters may be minimally fleshed out.

Romances are a great example of character driven stories. The character driven story begins when the protagonist finds his or her lot in life unbearable (bad husband, no husband, dull job, etc.) It ends when the protagonist either changes her life or comes to realize she is actually okay with their life.

Event driven stories are stories where the “world” is out of order. It begins when the main character tries to find a cure. It ends when the goal is achieved or when the character fails. The event can take many forms: a usurper, a betrayal of trust, or a crime unpunished.

By analyzing what type of story you have written, you will find it easy to locate the correct beginning and end.

Let’s use this tool to break down the first Harry Potter book.

Is there a problem Harry must solve? Yes it is the potential theft of the Sorcerer Stone. Who is trying to steal it and will HP and friends solve the mystery? It’s possible then, that HP1 could be an idea driven book. Except that the book does not begin or end with the mystery.

Let’s move on to milieu. Does the main character discover a new world? Obviously. A major part of the story is Harry discovering the world of magic. By seeing it through the eyes of a person who has never seen magic, we get to experience his delight as well. So HP1 could be a milieu. He does discover the world of magic before the issue involving the Sorcerer’s Stone, and he leaves the world after. So it could be a place story. But wait there’s more.

Let’s look at event. In almost every HP book, the world of magic and the world in general are in danger. In particular, Hogwarts itself is in danger of being shut down by one thing or another. And after Harry resolves the conflict, we learn that—for the moment, at least—Hogwarts is safe. Event? Maybe, but . . .

What every HP book starts and ends with is Harry being unhappy with his state in life. He is living in a closet, he doesn’t hear from his friends, he is possibly going to get kicked out, he has lost a loved one. And what is the last thing that happens in every book? Harry comes to settle with his current lot in life. By examining each of the storylines in HP 1, we determine that while there are elements of all story types (which is one of the things that gives the HP series such universal appeal), ultimately HP is a character driven story.

Now try this with the novel you are working on writing or the one that you are reading. It might open your eyes.