Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, September 27, 2008

When You Lose Your Mind

by Sariah S. Wilson

So, here I've sat for the last 20 minutes trying to think of something to blog about. I'm not really sure why my mind is functioning so poorly these days.

I blame my 16-month-old. She is the light of my life, but is sucking my will to create. I admire those that can do it still (create with small children), but she's like this cute little trap, that stands there all sweet and docile, saying her favorite words, "bus" (which she puts a th sound on the end, SO CUTE) and "Mama" and "buh-bye." (She has a rather amazing vocabulary and speaks in short sentences, but she has a tendency to say her favorite words over and over again, just to hear herself say them.) With those big blue eyes, curling at the ends reddish-blonde hair and sweet temperment, she beckons you over. She wants you to become completely involved in her world. And how can anyone resist?

Obviously, I can't.

Plus, I think I should be given some leeway considering the big upheavals in my life recently - which now includes my parents' brand new car being stolen out of their driveway the morning after my brother's return home from his mission.

My mother came downstairs, got her keys from the key rack, walked outside...and there was no car.

My parents have never owned a new car. For the 34 years they've been married, they've only had very used cars. After pumping a lot of money into the last car, they decided the time had come to have their very first new car, a blue Honda Accord which they both loved.

I don't think devastated begins to cover it. You can imagine how violated they felt, that something like this had happened in their driveway. My mom was quick to see the blessings in the situation in that they had the house's downstairs windows open - obviously things could have been much worse.

People were quick to point out that the Honda Accord is allegedly one of the top ten cars stolen, and that their new car was now sitting in some chop shop being stripped for parts. My parents hoped that some teenagers had taken it out for a joyride and that it would be recovered (although my mom got very attached to her shiny, fun rental car and thought maybe having to wait a little bit to get it back wouldn't be so bad).

If the car was not recovered, they would not be able to purchase another new one. The Blue Book value of the lost car wouldn't cover the cost of starting over on another car. My mom also lamented the loss of her favorite CD and some of her favorite books left in the trunk.

Last night my father got a phone call at 1:30 in the morning from the police saying his car had been recovered and he needed to come down and identify it. The person who had stolen the car was actually in the car when it was found. My father was also asked whether or not he knew the woman who had taken it. He didn't, but it was definitely his car and he was able to take it home with him.

Not only had nothing been taken out of the car (CD and books still intact!), but my RM brother discovered the thief's credit cards. (Those were returned to the police, who decided that anyone who stole a car didn't need their credit cards returned to them right away.)

There wasn't even any damage to the car - turns out that my mother had a spare key in her purse, which had slipped out without her knowing it into the car. My father is very regimented in locking up all the cars every night, but that night simply forgot to what with all the excitement of my brother's homecoming. Someone happened along at the right time and the right place to take advantage of the situation.

See? Stress.

Plus, and don't mind me while I complain a little bit, but I've been having a lot of headaches with this pregnancy. This isn't something I've experienced with any of the others, and I'm not really sure what to do. My mom had such an aversion to taking any kind of medication while pregnant, and I find that I'm very much the same. So while I know it's supposed to be okay to take Tylenol, is it okay if I have to take it every day? Or is that too much? My dad suspects that I'm not hydrated enough (and for the first time ever, water tastes bad. I'm not really sure what to do about this - I seem to manage to be able to get down Crystal Light lemonade, but I have the worst time forcing myself to drink water. Which is weird, because typically, while not pregnant, I drink A LOT of water every day).

Or it could be the lack of sleep. There's so much to do, and my baby likes to wake up at 4:30 - 5:00 in the morning. Sometimes she goes back to sleep, but more often than not she doesn't. So I end up getting about six hours of sleep a night, and I don't think that's enough. Maybe that's what's making my head hurt. And I keep forgetting to ask my doctor about this. Why, I don't know (lack of sleep and dehydration, maybe?). I should probably write it on my hand so I don't forget.

Has anyone else experienced daily headaches while pregnant? Do they stop? Any suggestions or tips would be most welcome.


Friday, September 26, 2008

The Reports that The Frog Croaked Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Thanks to Rob, you all know where I've been for the past week. (Too bad the Secret Service had to hack in to remove the pictures of me in the top secret reactor-thingie on the White Sands Missile Range. You'd have loved that!) To show my gratitude to Robbie for sharing such flattering candid shots, I searched high and low for just the right souvenir. At first I was torn between the classic rattlesnake-head-frozen-for-all-time-in-acrylic and the more trendy cow-plop-shaped-fudge in a designer box (I'm not making either of those things up, you know.) But since animal-rights activists are so against the former and Rob is pretty full of his own own you-know-what, I finally decided to ship him this distinctive New Mexican pet:

For those of you fortunate enough to live outside the Land of Enchantment, this is a vinegaroon. My mother-in-law swears that the bite of a vinegaroon will cause a person to taste vinegar for weeks afterwards. This may not be true, but BugGuide notes that “Although its tail is unable to sting, this creature can spray an acidic mist from a scent gland at the base of the tail when disturbed. The spray is 85% concentrated acetic acid/vinegar, hence the common name vinegaroon.” Now I ask you, how fun is that? Come to think of it, judging by some of his interviews, maybe Rob can to it, too. Talk about the perfect pet.

While we're on the subject of people missing in action, I was on a line the other day whereon a new reader of the Frog Blog commented that as far as she had seen, there is no Frog. I wrote immediately to correct her misconception and suggest that if she was still doubtful, she could write to the Amphibian himself. (In care of General Delivery, of course. He's like Santa Claus -- the post office always knows where to find him.) She took me up on the dare and was then kind (and creative!) enough to forward his reply:

An Open Letter from The Frog, courtesy of Deb Erfert

Let me begin by saying that I’m sorry I was away so long. I know I’ve been remiss in keeping up my end of the blog, but after the last Whitney fundraiser, I felt the need for a drastic change of scenery.

I have a cousin in Montevideo, Uruguay, and I thought I’d take him up on his invitation for some quiet time. Although I left in the spring, my cousin didn’t warn me that by the time I got down to South America it would be winter rather than summer. And it took time to get there. I mean, I can’t exactly hop onto an airplane and jet down. Security is unreasonably tight these days, and I need more than three ounces of water to sit in. Please don’t let this gross you out, but I breathe oxygen and drink water through my skin. I am Frog; Hear me ribbit.

My poor cousin didn’t know that some North American frogs can freeze solid as soon as the snow starts, and I’m afraid I frightened him. I certainly didn’t know that snow can fall any place that far south. I was sooo wrong. By the time the small river-fed pond (and my body) thawed, my cousin had long since gone, thinking me eternally dead. He was wrong, only I couldn’t tell him I was just hibernating until I found him, so I set out northward-bound.

My trek back to the States was interesting, to say the least. Really, it was fascinating. I didn’t know I have so many relations. At one point, somewhere in central Brazil, I had more cousins around me than at an Edson Whipple family reunion.

Rio really is a party town. Take this frog’s word for it.

Still, I couldn’t find the cousin I had frightened so badly. I pressed on.

Along the way I discovered hundreds, maybe even thousands of unclassified frogs. They were fellow amphibians that had never been photographed or painted by artists because they live in blissful obscurity in the rainforest. I almost didn’t leave them. Their lives were simply ideal...except for the fact they are at the bottom of a very long food chain.

I left posthaste.

As you can read, I finally made it back. I am tickled greener to hear that Julie finally had her baby girl, and that Sariah is blessed with growing a new tadpole. I am jumping for joy over Stephanie's next book and proud enough to croak over Jeff’s launch party and book tour. Glad to see Kerry is back in Arizona, and, Wells, if you can keep the rest of the elections as entertaining as your last two interviews, man, there will be no more apathy in America.

Let’s keep things jumping.

Like the rest of you, I've wondered where that guy hopped off to. Thanks, Deb, for the terrific update. You've won an autographed picture of The Frog (suitable for framing) and an absolutely stunning all-new-and-improved Fabulously Fun Frog Pack of you very own.

Now how about the rest of you? Inspired? Forward me any postcards, letters, telegrams, e-mails, photos or whatever you receive from our wandering frogger blogger. I will publish them in coming weeks and send you a Frog Pack to cherish forever.

Hey, it beats the vinegaroon I sent Rob!


Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Don't Mean to be Rude, but . . . My Booksigning Dilemma

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Last Thursday I went to an appearance/booksigning for Brandon Mull. As I previously mentioned, my son and I had read Candy Shop Wars together and thought it would be nice to top off our book club reading by going to see Mr. Mull and perhaps having him sign our book. Unfortunately, it was not what I expected.

It started off well. We got a great place in line and had great seats where we could definitely see all the action. Posters were being handed out and my son got one that he thought was “cool.” We sat down to wait for Mr. Mull to arrive and watched as more and more people squeezed into the room. Soon, there was nowhere to sit at all and people started lining the aisles and halls. It soon became a madhouse of children and parents and nowhere to sit. Hundreds of people had come to see him. When Mr. Mull got there, he was greeted with lots of whistling and applause, but quickly launched into his presentation. He talked briefly about how he got into writing, then took questions from the crowd, which was difficult because the crowd was quite large (half of them children) and it was hard to hear. After fifteen minutes, he stopped taking questions and headed to the auditorium where he was going to sign books for everyone. I was happy that it had been short and sweet. I didn’t want to be away from my newborn baby for that long and hoped we could get in quickly and head home.

So here’s where the problem came in. Mr. Mull had hundreds of people there to see him and have him sign something for them. HUNDREDS of people. The sponsors who were putting on the booksigning had obviously not prepared for such a huge showing and seemed at a loss for how to handle it. They put people in a line that never moved and didn’t seem bothered by it at all. It took my son and I TWO HOURS in the line to move from the room we were in to the auditorium where Mr. Mull was signing books, and it was another hour before we made it to the front of the line to write down on a little card what we wanted him to write in our book, and then have him sign said book. The man in charge of the line joked that it was just like Disneyland, but honestly, I've never stood in a line for three hours at Disneyland. And there was no fast ride at the end of this wait. But when I finally got into the auditorium, to join another line and wait some more, what I witnessed surprised me. Mr. Mull was sitting at a table, casually talking sometimes for ten minutes and longer to people as he signed the four books they’d brought, the poster, and the bookmark.

Does anything seem wrong with that picture to you?

Mr. Mull, as an author, was between a rock and a hard place. He doesn’t want to seem rude by cutting anyone off, especially the kids that have come to see him, so he talks to them and when they keep talking, he does, too. But, on the other hand, he has hundreds of people standing in a line for hours while he does so. Several of the mothers around me in line were upset not only because we were waiting in line for THREE HOURS and longer, but also because it was a school night, and at that point, it was 10:30 p.m. (Some people were in line until 11:00 p.m.)

I politely suggested to one of the ladies in charge that with such a large group still waiting for Mr. Mull, that perhaps they have someone stand beside him to move things along so he doesn’t get caught talking to people for ten or fifteen minutes when he has such a huge line, and limiting how many books or items he can sign, just so we could move the line faster. She frostily informed me that if Mr. Mull wanted it that way, he would have told them that. She also said that Mr. Mull is a very friendly person and if he wants to talk, they’ll let him talk and that he would talk to me when it was my turn.

I was surprised at her attitude because she could see the frustration on the faces of everyone who was standing in that line, trying to corral their kids as we waited. But she raised a valid question. Mr. Mull apparently hadn’t said anything about how to run the booksigning and so the people in charge just let it go and tried to calm people down. (Yes, there were a lot of upset people who finally just left). So who is supposed to say how a booksigning will run? If there are hundreds of people, should the author set down specific guidelines so that kids and parents aren’t standing there waiting for hours and hours? Should the people running the booksigning be in charge of that?

I’ve known fans who have gone to Stephenie Meyer signings and been disappointed because she only signed her name in one book, with no personal message, and couldn’t really talk very long. At first I was thinking, how lame. But after standing in a line for hours and seeing how it was handled there, I now see the merits of that idea. Either way, you’re not going to please everyone, but I think that, truly, an author needs help in that situation. I imagine that after four hours of signing hundreds of books, posters, and bookmarks, that Mr. Mull’s hand was shaking. I am sure that after talking for literally four hours straight without so much as a break, that his voice was almost gone. I did think it was gracious of him to stay the entire time until all the people had seen and talked to him, but I wonder if it had been run more efficiently if the whole experience could have been better for him as well as those of us who came to see him.

But the question for me is, who should run it more efficiently? The author or the ones sponsoring the booksigning? Maybe an author who has hundreds of people come to see them for booksignings could chime in with their opinion. (Jeff? Kerry?) Or, if someone who has run a booksigning before has an answer, I’d love to hear that, too.

The happy ending to the story is, that even though it was far past my son’s bedtime and he was tired of standing in line for so long, when it was our turn, Mr. Mull briefly chatted with him about the book we’d read and basketball, then took a picture, and signed our book with a personal message to my little boy. Was it worth over three hours in line? To my son it was and maybe that’s all that matters.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I'm So Excited!

by Stephanie Black

I just heard from my wonderful editor--my new suspense novel (working title Picture Perfect--thank you, Melanie J., for the working title suggestion) has been accepted for publication! I'm thrilled! I am beyond thrilled! It's scheduled for an August 2009 release.

Did I mention I'm excited?

I called my mother to tell her the good news. She said I should go celebrate tonight, and tonight will be quite the party. We're having leftovers for dinner, which isn't a party for anyone else, but it is for me, since I don't have to cook. Take your choice of beef stew, lasagna, or what should have been pork medallions (porklets), though I'm not sure I medallionized them correctly. Then I have preschool orientation, followed by a Court of Honor. Stake YW Volleyball is going on as well, which I'm missing because of the Court of Honor (my son is receiving his Second Class). Too bad I'm missing volleyball, since the YW get to play against the bishops, which would be quite entertaining to watch.

Maybe my husband and I can sneak away later in the evening and go to Cold Stone. Nothing says "celebrate" like a big scoop of ice cream!

And in additional exciting news, next Tuesday night, my kids and I get to go see J. Scott Savage, brilliant author of Farworld. He's doing a booksigning at a Barnes and Noble only about half an hour away from us. There we'll be in a huge line of fans, waiting for J. Scott to ink his name in the front of a copy of Farworld, after which my kids and I can arm-wrestle over who gets to read it first. I'm thinking I can win against my three-year-old; other than than, I'm not so sure.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Linkety-Linkety

by Robison Wells

So, I don't have much time to blog at the moment, and I likely won't have time to blog later this afternoon either. Consequently, this blog won't be saying too much. Instead, I'll link you to other things that are much more entertaining than me.


First, here are a bunch of websites that I frequent:

Chickens Don't Have Armpits, which is the marvelous blog of my friend and fellow writer, Matthew Buckley (Marion Jensen). Let me tell you why his blog is better than mine: he's really smart, and he thinks about interesting things. (And then he blogs about them.)

A Motley Vision. You read this, don't you? If you're at all interested in the Mormon arts, you should. It's fascinating and diverse. It's one of the few places that actually discusses all aspects of LDS literature without seeming to really pick sides or get negative. It's run by William Morris who, I can attest, has good taste in restaurants.

I have probably linked to this before, but I love me some Little People. It is street art, and it's very clever.

I also love me some Dinosaur Comics. This is, by far, my favorite webcomic. It can occasionally get a little crass, but just don't look at it those days, 'kay? Here's one of my favorites. Here's another.

The webcomic XKCD has a tendency to be crass more often than not, so I won't recommend it. However, take a look at this one, and laugh. If that does not amuse you, then you are neither my age nor my friend.

Writers in Heels is basically Six LDS Writers and a Frog, except not quite as awesome. (Almost, but not quite.) :) It's a collaborative blog that features many of my favorite author friends. (All of them are women, hence the "heels". But it'd be funny if Matthew Buckley joined them.)

If you happen to be a marketer with an affinity for consumer packaged goods as well as a love of art, go look at The Dieline. If you are not those things, then don't.

The Selby is a photo blog that has very little explanation, yet it is strangely addicting. Again, this might not be everyone's cup of tea. It's both weird and fascinating, and I'll happily admit that I don't really get it. But I like it.

I also read a whole bunch of political blogs, which I am choosing not to link to, because I don't want to really get into a political discussion. Suffice it to say that I disagree with almost every single political blog I read, mainly because political bloggers tend to be extremists and crazy. But they're still fun to read.


Podcasts

You thought I was done! But I'm not. I bought an MP3 player this spring, and I've been enjoying the glory of podcasts. Here are some that I enjoy.

(However, I need your help! I seem to have really bad luck finding good podcasts. About once a week I'll poke around the corners of the internet looking for good ones, and 90% of what I find is CRAP with a capital K. Do you listen to podcasts? Tell me about the where they are!)

Writing Excuses is a podcast featuring Brandon Sanderson (writer of Elantris), Howard Tayler (writer of Schlock Mercenary), and Dan Wells (my brother, who has a horror series coming out next year). It's really, really excellent, and I'm not just saying that because they're my friends. There are an awful lot of articles about how to write floating around the internet--I've written several--but these guys are SMART. In fact, after reading many authors write many mediocre articles about writing, this podcast is a breath of fresh air.

Every Monday morning I download the latest Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me and Car Talk. They're my Monday traditions now.

I also listen religiously to This American Life (another NPR show). We on this blog are all writers, and I think that we could all learn a lot from the storytelling genius of This American Life.

I also somehow found a weekly radio show in Texas (also NPR), called Think, that is mostly authors being interviewed about their books. They've had some really great stuff.

Lest you think I always listen to NPR: another of my favorites is Skeptoid, which debunks a lot of urban legends via science and intelligence. (For example, they talk about how the Large Hadron Collider is not going destroy the earth and how cellphones are probably not going to give us brain cancer. Some of my very favorite ones focus on health-related silliness, such protests against flouridation and such.) (If you're the type of person who is annoyed that I just referred to protests against flouridation as silliness, then this probably isn't the podcast for you. Because you don't like science?) (Disclaimer: again, I don't always agree with this guy. He points his skepticism gun at religion every once in a while, which gets annoying. But it's fairly rare.)

One of my favorite writers and actors, Stephen Fry, podcasts occasionally. I have to say that while the subjects of shows aren't anything phenomenal, he's a joy to listen to.


So... What have I missed? Of course, this is just a sample of my overstuffed Favorites list, but what are the gems that I need to add? And please: send any podcasts you have. I love what I have, but I have terrible luck finding new ones.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Book Tour Day One


Almost exactly two years ago I received a phone call from my good friend and fellow author, James Dashner. He was as excited as a little kid, about a meeting he’d just had with Chris Schoebinger and Lisa Mangum, of Shadow Mountain. They had agreed to publish his young adult fantasy series, The 13th Reality.

That night, I found myself wide awake in a hotel room with a crazy story that wouldn’t leave my head. If you’ve read any of the interviews from my blog tour, you are familiar with the story. What you might not be as familiar with is the incredible luck and timing that led me to where I am today. (Which at the moment is about 20,000 feet in the air, somewhere over southern Utah, getting ready to begin my two week book tour.)

People ask all the time what the trick to getting published is. Even though every writer knows deep inside that there is no magic silver bullet to getting published, there is a part of us that firmly believes the other guy (or gal) knows something we don’t know. It’s like when you’re fishing out on a lake, and the guy across the way is catching fish every ten minutes, while you’re not getting a nibble. You ask yourself what you are doing wrong. Does he have better bait? Does he know about a secret spot where fish always school? Is he letting his line go deeper? Shallower?

You can literally drive yourself crazy wondering what you are doing wrong. You keep switching baits. You change spots. You surreptitiously spy on him when he sets up his line. In other words, you do everything but the one thing that will catch you fish. And that is to fish.

I am by no means an expert at getting published. Yes I’ve done it a few times, but there are so many people who have been far more successful at it than me. Still, I have learned a few things. In metaphorical terms, I’ve spent a pretty good amount of time at the lake over the last eight years, and I’ve seen a lot of really good (and really bad) fishermen and fisherwomen come and go. I’ve had good days and bad days. But I usually come home with something to put in the pan.

Here’s what I’ve learned. Seventy percent of getting published is how well you write. The other thirty percent is pure dumb luck. I suppose that might frighten some of you who are trying desperately to get that first book on the shelves. And it might offend some of you who have been fortunate enough to do so yourselves. But you really shouldn’t be frightened or offended. Instead, you should use this information to your advantage.

Maybe I should be a little clearer. For the most part, books that have no redeeming value do not get picked up by traditional publishers. (I know, shocking news flash huh?) A novel (non-fiction is another beast entirely) typically has to have one or more of three things going for it. Well drawn characters, a timely or intriguing plot, and great writing. Some time over the next two weeks I’ll share my opinion on which of the three is most important, but for now let’s give them all equal weight.

What I am saying here is that seventy percent (and possibly quite a bit more) of the writers who do not get published have not polished their writing skills enough. Don’t let this discourage you. Because what it means is that if you can craft a good story, with relatively interesting characters and a decent plot, you are in the top thirty percent of everyone who submits their work. You don’t have to be the greatest writer in the world; you just have to be good enough. I’ll be the first to admit that my first published work, a high-tech thriller titled Cutting Edge, was not the height of great writing. So why did it get published if it wasn’t the best work?

Let’s go back to the fishing analogy. There are fishermen who can go to a lake or stream where no one is catching fish, and bag their limit. Why? Because they know the fish and the spot inside and out. They will never come home empty handed. These are the Stephen Kings, The Danielle Steeles, the Graishams and Koontzs. They are going to get published as long as they keep churning out words. And I don’t begrudge them a bit. They’ve earned the right.

But there are also people who drop in their line with little or no knowledge of what they are doing, and yet they catch fish as well. When I was about five, I used to go fishing in the Trinity River with my parents and grandparents. They had the best gear and the best lures. I, on the other hand, had a stick with a hook tied to it. I caught grasshoppers by swatting them with a pine bough, and stuck them on my hook.

As you would expect, the older folks usually caught more fish. But every so often I brought home the bigger catch. Why? Because an irrevocable law of nature is that if you stick a big grasshopper in front of a hungry trout, you will get a bite. When I submitted Cutting Edge to Covenant, I didn’t know that by dumb luck, they were looking for “guy books.” They’d been publishing lots of romance and a little mystery, and they wanted a book guys would like. In essence, I dropped my grasshopper in front of a hungry trout and they bit.

Now let me restate the obvious again. Even if my book wasn’t the best writing in the world, the story was solid. In fact, there are many people who still come up to me years later and tell me how much they liked the story. I didn’t have the strongest writing, but I did have a fun plot and a decent couple of main characters. It may not have been perfect bait, but it was bait. Even a hungry trout won’t bite at a stone. (A bluegill will bite at anything though. Not sure how that fits into the analogy.)

Now let’s jump to Farworld. How did it get published? A couple of things worked together. First, without tooting my own horn too much, my writing has improved a lot. I’ve gone to numerous conferences, talked to lots of authors, written hundreds of thousands of words, and worked hard to get better at my craft. If I hadn’t done that, none of the rest would have mattered. Next, I got to know other authors and publishing people. Remember, the whole reason I started writing that night was because of a conversation with James. And the first thing I did when I realized I had a story to tell was to contact Lisa Mangum, who I had met at writing conferences.

I also had put quite a bit of time into promoting my other books. Let me not downplay this last point. I talked to a publishing executive recently—in fact more than one—who took a chance on a book in big part because they knew the author was a relentless marketer.

Now comes the luck. Shadow Mountain was looking for another fantasy series. They had Leven Thumps, Fablehaven, and the aforementioned 13th Reality. I became the fourth series. Would I be on this plane right now if I had started my series six months later? Three months? I’d like to think I would have been published anyway, but it’s not a thought I like to dwell on late at night. I’m not saying Shadow Mountain isn’t still taking authors—they are—but what if they’d received another series as good or better than mine in the three months between?

So what can you take from all this? I think that in publishing and in life in general, the opportunities come to those who are lucky and are prepared to take advantage of that luck. In addition, you’ve got to be on the lookout constantly for those opportunities. They won’t walk up and hit you on the nose.

An excellent agent once told me that once your writing reaches a certain quality, you are publishable. Whether you get published or not, after that point, comes down to timing. Is the publisher/agent looking for what you have? Are they in a good mood when they read your work? Did someone else beat you to the punch by a week? Is your story just the angle they’ve been looking for? Or is it the same one that bombed six months ago? Is it enough to just write a great book? Maybe. Or maybe not. I might have the juiciest worm in the world, but if I’m fishing at the south end of the lake while the fish or up north, I can’t catch them.

You means you can’t get discouraged. You can’t give up even if you’ve struck out a hundred times. You have to keep submitting. You have to keep writing. You have to keep trying. And most importantly of all, you have to remember that, just like fishing, writing should be a joy in and of itself. If you don’t love doing it, why bother? And if you do love it, don’t ever let it turn into a job. It’s like the bumper sticker says, “The Worst Day Fishing is Better than the Best Day Working.” Life is too short to spend your spare time doing something you don’t absolutely love.

The last thing I’ll point out in this lengthy treatise is this. The employees who get the promotions are not the ones who do just enough to get by. They are the ones who go the extra mile. Shadow Mountain never told me to do a blog tour. They didn’t tell me to start a forum. They asked me to put together a school presentation, but they didn’t tell me it should include magic tricks, rubber chickens, and the story of Captain Weenie and The Little Purple Man. I’m spending every vacation day I have (and some I don’t have) to promote this book. I’m on my way to Houston, Phoenix, Oregon, Roseville, CA, and the Bay Area, talking to thousands of kids. And at the same time, the other Shadow Mountain authors are doing the same thing.

I guess it goes back to something my dad always told me. Whatever you are going to be, be the best at it. Teacher, writer, thief, garbage man—go above and beyond what is expected of you. I’m not a hundred percent sure I’ll be successful. But is anyone ever? The launch party went well. But now I’m not playing to the hometown crowd. I’ll keep you updated every night over the next two weeks and let you know how it goes. Now I have to finish my cheese crackers and my peanuts, and hope I didn’t forget to pack anything.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Being Amish and No Longer Russian

by Sariah S. Wilson

So this past week has been a rather exciting one. And by exciting I mean stressful and hard to deal with (okay, the end of it was exciting).

On Sunday afternoon our power went out. Very unexpected - we knew that we were supposed to get some leftover thunderstorms here in Ohio courtesy of Hurricane Ike, but nothing more than that. Instead we got winds that were very fast and very hard - five people in Cincinnati died from falling trees in the storm.

We lost a lot of shingles, and the baby didn't care for the wind, but we were fine. The power being off was a tad inconvenient, but we weren't too worried. Surely it wouldn't be off for that long. Our local energy company had a recording saying that our power would be on by 9:00 the next morning. We expected to send our kids to school the next day and to have life go on as normal.

It didn't.

I went to a doctor's appointment (and we got a heartbeat and everything looks good!), thinking the power would be on when I returned. Nope. At this point I started to get a little concerned - what would we do with our food in our fridge and our large freezer in the garage? Of course there was no ice to be found anywhere. A city just to the north of us had power, and there were runs on the gas stations (which I had to participate in because I was running on fumes!). School was obviously cancelled, and so I thought I'd go find a restaurant to feed my kids. Turns out everybody else and their dog had the same idea. Fortunately we only had to wait about thirty minutes to be seated.

My husband joined us, and after we ate we went looking for any helpful supplies. He nabbed a power inverter, which he hooked up to his car, and was able to power his laptop and the portable DVD player. (The baby was beside herself that her beloved "Ba" (Barney) could again return to her. She was actually giddy as he sang for her.) We were also able to recharge our lanterns. (It wasn't strong enough to help run the fridge or freezer.)

There were no D batteries anywhere. No generators or campout cooking stoves, nothing that might have helped. (It really makes you understand why they keep emphasizing that preparedness thing so much.) We cooked on our grill and had sandwiches and cereal. We still had water and sewer. Thankfully, the weather had cooled considerably so we were okay without our air conditioning.

Monday night, as I read by lantern light, my husband turned to me and said, "So, this is what it's like to be Amish? Yeah, this sucks." (What can I say? We like technology.)

A lot of people saw this as an opportunity to spend more time with their family. We already spend a lot of time with our family. We have the togetherness thing down. So it ended up just sort of becoming a stressor for me.

I had to teach my sons how to wash dishes the way they did in the olden days (we used the dishwasher to dry them). I was not about to wash my laundry by hand, but my youngest son ran out of pajamas. We put some of his dad's old T-shirts on him instead.

I missed my conveniences. I tried not to complain too much - I knew that people in Texas had it so much worse than I did.

But by Tuesday I really started praying. I felt like I was camping in my own home (and I am not a fan of the camping). I wanted the electricity back. I wanted to be able to buy perishable food that I could keep cold.

My parents got their power before we did, and had us over that night for dinner.

Finally, the next evening, the power returned. I was cautiously optimistic - the newspapers had warned that many houses got their electricity back only to lose it a short time later (which was confirmed by my cashier at Wal-Mart - she lives in apartments and the power came back on, and her neighbor promptly went out to restock her fridge and freezer, and when she returned the power went out again and had not come back on since then).

But when it seemed on Thursday that we had finally stabilized, I went ahead and went shopping (where the refrigerated sections looked almost totally bare), very grateful to be able to go and for things to still be there.

Comparatively we had nothing to complain about, but it made me gain a whole new appreciation for what people even further south have had to go through.

The week ended on a high note though - my brother returned from his mission to Russia tonight! (We had a fun time imagining what would happen if the power still wasn't on when he got back. "Yeah, remember how you had all those power outages in Russia? We just wanted you to feel more at home!") We missed the actual return. I had timed everything perfectly today, but things don't always go as planned, and his plane was early. We arrived 45 seconds after he did, so we missed the big welcome home moment (the rest of my family still in Ohio was there). We were so disappointed. He was exhausted - he'd been on planes all day and for him it was 2:00/3:00 in the morning. But we went back and spent time with him at my parents' house. He had that recently returned missionary thing going on for him, not quite sure what to do with himself or how to act. Nothing is the way he remembers it - my kids are much older (and when he held the baby, she took one look at him, her little lip fell and she started sobbing like her heart was breaking), the house is totally different (lots of remodeling because my parents thought they were moving), most of our siblings are gone at school or married. So much has changed, and I can't believe he's back home with us. It really doesn't feel like enough time has passed.

Fortunately, we're no longer Amish and he's no longer Russian, and we get to enjoy being together again for a few months before he goes off to school. (Where I'm sure some smart co-ed will snap him up right away, because he's awesome. And he speaks Russian.)


Friday, September 19, 2008

Kerry's Trip to The Land of Enchantment

by Rob Wells

Late last night I got an email from Hilary, Kerry's daughter, informing me that Kerry had gone off to New Mexico and hadn't remembered to take her laptop and was therefore unable to blog today.

Fortunately for all involved, I managed to get hold of Kerry's vacation photos, which I will post here in lieu of her blog.

Welcome to the Land of Enchantment!



Here's Kerry visiting the New Mexico Mining Museum. It will blow your mine!



Kerry showing off her mad weaving skillz!



Kerry helping this guy roast green chile!



Inspecting the remains of the crashed UFO in Roswell!



Throwing bread off the roof of the Acoma pueblo!



Let's hope Kerry is back next week!


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Miss Manners---Or Not

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Well, I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately. Not on my work in progress, mind you, but on thank you notes. Hand written thank you notes.

My friends and neighbors have been incredibly generous to me and my family ever since the baby was born and I’ve been anxious to let them know how much I appreciate it. And that is where the thank you notes come in.

Of course, some would say, “Why don’t you just email? Text? Tell them when you see them next?”

I don’t know. I suppose I could. But there is just something about a handwritten thank you note that makes me feel good inside. Somehow I think that when they receive my thank you note, they will know that I spent time thinking about their gift, and really wanted to tell them how much I appreciated it and how glad I am that we’re friends and neighbors. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I think in today’s world, much of the manners and things that used to be commonplace, seem out of place. When I was growing up, we were always taught to call an adult Mr. or Mrs. and would never dream of calling them by their first names. Doors were held open for a lady and words like “excuse me,” “please,” and “thank-you,” were heard often. Sometimes, when I look around at our society, I miss those small niceties. It’s not all gone, however.

My son worked a summer job this past summer that included a lot of backbreaking labor. He spent hours in a muddy ditch, under a scorching sun, digging sprinkler trenches. When it was my day to pick him up, he was always dirty from head to toe. Thankfully, for the sake of my van’s upholstery, we were in a car pool with three other people, so I didn’t have to pick him up every day. One particular day, when I thought the ditch digging was over and it was my turn to pick up, I watched the four kids in our carpool come toward me, looking like the Swamp Thing rising from the mud, and I groaned out loud. I glanced at my van’s cloth seats and the carpet underneath, and I knew neither of them would ever recover. The van door opened, and it was the moment of truth. The first two kids climbed in noisily, stomping their muddy feet on my van’s carpet as they did so, and I cringed, trying not to think of the mess that was now inside. My son got into the front seat, but before he did, he stomped off his work boots outside of the van, and then gingerly climbed in with a, “sorry, Mom.” But it was the last boy that surprised me. He had a little jacket in his hands and he spread it over the seat before he got in. He sat very still through the entire ride, as if he didn’t want to move and get any more mud anywhere in my car, and when he got out, he said over his shoulder, “thanks for the ride!” His actions impressed me because he cared. He cared about not getting my car dirty. He cared enough to thank me for picking him up. And I was grateful because he had obviously been taught manners and it showed.

Another example was when, on a cold day, my daughter had forgotten her coat and while she was walking back to school from her seminary building, a young man saw her shivering and offered her his coat. Again, I was grateful for the manners and care he showed my daughter.

But, on the other hand, when we were going out to dinner as an extended family, we had to wait to be seated. It was crowded in the waiting area and there wasn’t a seat to be found for my mother in law so she could sit down and wait. She stood there, for quite a while, and we were grateful that a seat was going to open up for her after a couple was finally ushered to their table. Unfortunately, before she could sit down a young man on a cell phone jumped in front of her and sprawled out so there wasn’t room for anyone but him and his cell phone. Can you see the look on my face at that moment?

So perhaps I am old-fashioned and there are more people like the young man at the restaurant in the world. Maybe no one will appreciate my thank you notes. Perhaps they will throw them out without even opening them. But I believe that there is someone, somewhere who will know what that little card that I am giving them means---I care about you, I loved your gift, and I’m glad we’re friends, thank you! And while there are certainly other means of transmitting that message nowadays, there is just something about telling someone thank you with a thank you note that is extra special to me---a throwback to the “olden” days, I suppose, but something I’d like to hold on to. And I’d rather be like the young men who showed care and concern for others, even in something as small as caring about a mess in someone’s van and thanking them for a ride, or offering a coat to a cold girl. It’s that sort of thing that brings a smile and a warmth to my heart. Like all the gifts my family has received, those small niceties were a gift as well. So to those people, I say thank you! (Your note is in the mail.)


Checking In

by Stephanie Black

Okay, yeah, it’s nine-thirty at night, and I haven’t yet posted a blog. But it’s still Wednesday for two and a half more hours, so I still get full credit, right?

Tonight was back to school night at the high school. You go through your child’s schedule and spend ten minutes in each class. They give you five minutes to get from class to class, which is not always easy, since the campus consists of a bunch of different buildings. Since this is my fourth year with children at the school, I’m getting a teensy bit more familiar with it, but I still needed my map and a little guidance from a kind teacher. The tricky part this year is that I have two daughters in high school, so I couldn’t do two schedules. Last year, my husband and I each took a daughter’s schedule, but tonight, he’s in China on a business trip, so I was flying solo. My oldest daughter, a senior, volunteered to attend her sophomore sister’s classes. She was excited to see several of her old teachers again. I made it to four out of the six classes on my list, then bailed out so I could go home, grab my son (who just turned twelve) and get him over to the church for a temple recommend interview for Saturday’s temple trip.

Isn’t my life fascinating? Is anyone still awake out there?

We stopped at the library today where, to my bewilderment, the parking lot was cram-jammed. Turns out that children's author Marc Brown and another author whose name escapes me were there signing books and there were a huge number of mothers and children there to meet the author. I didn't join the queue, but it's pretty cool that he was at our library (he wrote the Arthur books). And Jeff, if you come to our library, I'll be first in line.

In other updates, we’re not completely unpacked yet, but we’re getting there. Unfortunately, you can’t put the rest of life on “pause” while you go through those boxes. The kitchen floor will get still get dirty and the laundry will still pile up. You’d think the butler and footmen would keep things in better order, but it’s so hard to find good help these days.

Have you ever noticed that moving involves a lot of little odds and ends? Once you get the “real” boxes packed, you’re left with a scattering of small, random items, and when you’re unpacking, you get to deal with finding a home for them. Let’s call them “crudlets,” the kind of things that tend to collect beneath couch cushions. When we were packing up the old house, I had a bag where I could throw crudlets. Game pieces, dimes, screws, little toys, whatever. Needless to say, I haven’t attacked the crudlet bag yet. I hate crudlets. Okay, maybe for you, moving doesn’t involve crudlets because you’re organized and all the game pieces are in the game boxes and your loose change is all together in a cute ceramic jar shaped like Shakespeare’s head, but my life has been besieged by crudlets. But come to think of it, Halloween is approaching. When the doorbell rings, I could just take my crudlet bag, and here, kiddo, have a Scrabble tile, a plastic toy shaped like a slice of onion, and a little baggie of metal washers.

We also have a great many electronic bits (bitlets?). I’m always afraid to throw out any cord or connector or gizmo or gadget, since I’m usually not sure what they go to or if they’re still useful. I fear throwing something away and then having my husband say, “Have you seen the xyz? It looks like (description of item I just chucked).” So I just save all that stuff. Plus, I’m not sure what all you can throw away these days—we aren’t even supposed to put household batteries in the trash here. We just took two boxes of old batteries up to the household hazardous waste disposal facility. Yes, indeedy.

I gotta go to bed. I have jury duty in the morning.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Face Off

by Robison Wells

As you'll no doubt recall, last week we featured an interview with the charming Sarah Palin, and I made the ludicrous claim that I'd interview the other candidates for the next three weeks. This is because I foolishly forgot that I have the attention span of a two year old high on meth.

However, lest any of you think that I'm partisan and that I only want to interview Sarah Palin, I thought that I'd sponsor a debate today between the two main candidates: Barack Obama, and John "The Fastest Man in Japan" McCain. Hopefully we'll get the heart of some really pressing issues.

(Yes, using this method will ignore Joe Biden, but seriously: who cares?)

Rob: Thank you both for coming today. Allow me first to say that I'm Independent and you both annoy me.

McCain: You're a man after my own heart.

Obama: I want you to know that I annoy me, too. I'd also be an Independent, if I weren't a Democrat.

Rob: Shut up, both of you. My first question is for McCain. You're from Arizona--isn't that a crazy state where people don't follow Daylight Saving Time?

McCain: Yes.

Rob: What's up with that? Are you cuckoo crazy?

McCain: It has to do with how hellishly hot it is down there. If we had an extra hour of daylight we'd all be consumed in a ball of atomic fire.

Rob: Obama? Rebuttal?

Obama: I think... I'll agree.

Rob: Circle gets the square!

McCain: Dang it.

Rob: Okay, Senator Obama: you were born in Hawaii, and then you moved to Kansas. Why the crap?

Obama: Kansas is the heartland, and it's a really lovely state. From the world's largest hand-dug well to the the boyhood home of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Kansas offer much to be enjoyed.

Rob: Senator McCain?

McCain: I'm going to have to disagree.

Rob: X gets the square! We're all tied up. Next question for you, McCain: you've often been called a maverick. Do you think that you are more like Maverick, as in the Mel Gibson movie, or Maverick, the nickname of Tom Cruise in Top Gun.

McCain: Well, I think that I'm more like Tom Cruise. I was, after all, a pilot in the navy.

Obama: I'm going to disagree.

Rob: Senator Obama is correct. It was a trick question--the correct answer is McCain is most like Maverick Matt, the professional wrestler. Circle gets the square.

McCain: I am known for my signature Superkick.

Rob: Yes, you are. Now, Mr. Obama, the Global Language Monitor has identified several new words derived from your name, such as obamamentum, obamacize, obamarama, obamamania, etc. My question is: what is the definition of obamarama?

Obama: Oh, that's easy. It's like that restaurant, Chuck-a-rama, except that I own the franchise and I treat customers to guitar serenades while they eat.

Rob: McCain.

McCain: That's a hard one... I think... agree?

Rob: Once again, you are correct. Senator Obama does in fact own a small chain of smorgasbord-style restaurants!

McCain: Sweet! [Does a little air guitar.]

Rob: Alright, the next question is for you, Senator Obama. Let me remind you that the score is currently tied, and whoever gets this one correct is the winner. Also, this is today's Secret Square, and the winner will also receive an all-expense-paid trip to Puerto Rico!

McCain: Awesome!

Obama: You're going down, old man.

McCain: In your dreams, punk.

Rob: Okay. For the win, and five days and four nights on the sunny beaches of Caja de Muertos, the question is: which American Gladiator competed in the original series, provided color commentary during the final season, and is a producer on the new revival.

Obama: That is a very difficult question.

McCain: Can't take the heat, get out of the Battle Dome!

Obama: No, I believe I know the answer. It was, I believe, Laser.

Rob: Senator McCain? Was it Laser?

McCain: Too bad for Obama, but I'm something of a Gladiators aficianado. I'm going to have to disagree.

Rob: Is that your final answer?

McCain: Final answer.

Rob: And the correct answer is... Nitro! John McCain is the winner! You're on your way to sunny Puerto Rico!

McCain: Don't mess with the best, 'cause the best don't mess.

Obama: Puerto Rico sucks. I didn't want to go there anyway.

Rob: Well, that's all we have time for tonight. Thanks everyone, and good luck in November!

[McCain pretends to shake Obama's hand, but then quickly moves his hand out of the way and brushes his hair. Obama throws a punch, and then the riot squad moves in with tear gas.]


Monday, September 15, 2008

Day Two of School Visits & the Launch Party

“J Scott Savage, ace reporter, here on the scene to report to you from what some people are calling a whirlwind of activity.”

Okay, I’m not really a reporter. And, to the best of my knowledge, I’m the only person calling it a whirlwind of activity. And even I hadn’t ever called it a whirlwind of anything until I wrote this. So you are officially allowed to take the rest of this post with a grain of salt or two. But I promise that everything else I write here today will be the way it all really happened.

When last we left off, it was Thursday night. I had just completed my first round of school visits and was—hopefully—prepared for the second round. First of all, let me just say that I LOVE school visits. I love the way the kids give you these curious looks when they file in. I love the way some of them wave. I love the feeling of energy as the entire gym becomes packed with kids. The teachers do a really good job of keeping things in check. But the rumble of voices and the wave of excitement are palpable. So I was really pumped to go back out.

Friday

This time, I called all three schools I was visiting in advance, which made things much smoother. When I showed up at the first school, Brockbank Elementary, everything was ready, which made setting up much easier. By the time the kids filed in, the projector was running, the first slide was up and all of the props were in place. I felt much more comfortable with the presentation too. No pauses, trying to remember what the next slide was. The new clicker worked like a charm. It even has a little laser doohickey so I can point things out on the screen. In fact, the only problem I ran into was that some of the story cards got turned around so I was showing the back “hidden” part. But no worries. We had a ball and the kids were great. They even took a picture of me with some of the students for the paper.

I finished the first school at 10:15, and the next school wasn’t until 12:45. My wife was at Sam’s Club with my parents buying chips and sodas for the launch party, so I called and asked her if they wanted to meet me at Cracker Barrel for lunch, where my son works as a server. When we got together, they all laughed at how I was losing my voice. It’s funny though, because my regular talking voice will get hoarse, but my presenting voice is just fine. It was nice to have a little break. Then on to the next school.

American Leadership Academy is a K-12 charter school, so I was in an auditorium for this one. Usually I am in a gym. This time I was up on stage with a huge screen and spotlight. That was cool, but there were two issues. First, the person who sets up all the equipment had forgotten about the event, so he wasn’t there. Suddenly there was a mad rush to find someone who could plug everything in. Second, my clicker doesn’t reach clear up to the sound room, so I can’t do my own slides. Fortunately, my wife is the Parent Council President there, and she got everything together like a champ. The presentation went great! Thanks Jeff and Johnny.

The one other funny thing I wanted to mention is that kids are really funny about autographs. Have you ever seen the line at Disneyland when one of the characters comes out? Generally I sign posters, bookmarks, and obviously books. But if one kid asks me to sign something else, suddenly everyone wants me to sign something. I’m totally good with that as long as we have time. But what is hilarious is what happens when none of them have any paper. I signed many, many shoes, sticky notes, notebooks, some teeny tiny scraps of paper, and again, had to tell about a dozen kids that I don’t sign hands, arms, foreheads, or any body parts. They assured me their parents wouldn’t mind seeing my name on their child’s head in permanent marker, but being a parent myself, I had to respectfully disagree.

My last school, Riverview, was at 2:30, and it went great as well. The students were funny, involved, and really seemed to enjoy the presentation. I even had one of the students bring me back the extra bookmarks and launch party invitations, as I was packing up. I thought that was pretty classy. Thus ended my second day of school visits. By Friday night I was confident I could take my show on the road without too many worries. Now the big question. Would any of the kids come to the launch party?

Saturday

Even though I was extremely nervous about the big event, I slept like a log Friday night. Usually I read for a while before I crash, but I was so tired, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. At eight o’clock I popped wide awake though. We didn’t need to go pick anything up until 10:00, but I took a drive by the library just to see if the tents and chairs were out on the lawn. They were. (Thanks, Sterling!)

For several months, my wife and I have been planning the event. We decided to provide free food along with the posters to really give things a party atmosphere. Fortunately, Shadow Mountain agreed to cover the expenses. Spanish Fork Smokehouse BBQ and Pizza gave us a great deal on enough pulled pork sandwiches to feed 500 people. My wife ordered 300 cupcakes. Originally the plan had been to do four large cakes with the Water Keep cover on them, but Wal-Mart has these great “cakes” that are actually made of cupcakes. So we had four book cakes plus a bunch of assorted cupcakes in the Water Keep cover colors.

We had also gotten a ton of publicity for the event. The Deseret News ran a great article that included information about the party. The local cable channel did a story. The city sent out notice of the event in everyone’s utility bills. And of course I visited seven schools over two days. But two days earlier, I’d been talking to a friend and telling her how worried I was that no one would show up. Did she reassure me that there’d be a big turnout? No. Instead she told me about a well known musician who’d recently had an event where, despite massive publicity, no one showed up and they even forgot to have lights for the event. Thanks LS! J

So with all this in mind, we flash back to Saturday morning. I’d had nightmares that it would be terrible weather or everyone would forget the setup. But it was a beautiful day, with clear blue skies. Two big banners fluttered on the library lawn announcing the event. Two tents were set up with tables and chairs on the library lawn, and the Smokehouse tables were also set up. So far so good.

At 10:00, my wife and I went to Wal-Mart and picked up the cupcakes (Have you ever seen 300 cupcakes? It draws a lot of attention!) We also picked up ten bags of ice. Every time someone asked, “When’s the party?” Jen told them, “Come to the library. It’s going to be great!” She’s an awesome PR person.

At quarter to 11:00 we pulled up to the library and started unloading. Hopefully we’d thought of everything: extra pens for signing, tape, scissors, posters, bookmarks, chips, drinks, two big ice-chests. A few minutes later, my parents showed up with the drinks. By the time we were done setting up, everything looked great. Now it was time for me to go home and get changed into something a little more author-like than my jeans and t-shirt.

You know that feeling where you’ve invited all your child’s friends to a birthday party and no one is showing up? You look at your son’s or daughter’s face and keep saying, “Don’t worry. I’m sure they’ll be here soon.” That’s the feeling I had as I was home alone, changing clothes. What if nobody showed? My whole family would be there. Chris, from my publisher, had said he’d drop by. Even the local news was coming. What if we were all standing around with enough food to feed 500 people and no one showed? One thing we hadn’t taken into consideration when initially planning the event was that at 1:30 (halfway through the event) BYU was playing UCLA in Provo. We are smack dab in the middle of Cougar country, and it would definitely have an impact.

At a quarter to twelve—just as I was heading out the door—my wife called from the library.

“Where are you?”

“I’m on my way. I just took a minute to print a couple of arrows so we could point out where we are to people coming up to the front library door.”

“Well hurry up. People are here.”

“People? You mean real people or family?” Sorry family, I know you are real people. But . . . well . . . you know what I mean.

“Real people.”

Real People! My heart started to race. By the time I reached the library there was a small line. I hurried over to the tent, sat down, and started greeting people. You know how people talk about time going by in a blur? I don’t think I’d ever really understood what that meant until Saturday morning. As soon as I sat down, I focused on the people coming up to the table. It was great—kids, parents, families—signing posters, books, bookmarks. Taking to people about what kinds of books they liked to read. Getting tons of complements on the cover artwork. Hearing from children about how much they liked the school presentations, and even a few people who had already read or started reading the book.

Lots of the kids I’d met at schools came. It was a blast meeting them and talking to their families. Several bloggers I knew came by including Mind of Murph and Suey. People came by who knew my parents. Some of the cutest kids in the world came up to the table all shy and big-eyed. Courtney and Paul from Barnes and Noble were amazed by the crowd. Paul said it was the biggest turnout he’d ever seen for a single author event. Lots of family came. My older sister—and soon to be published author—brought me a beautiful plant. Two members of my critique group, Michele and LuAnn came by. Chris Schoebinger came with his cute, cute kids.

The local TV News and Newspaper came by to cover the event. All my fears of no one showing up disappeared in a wash of the nicest people. Every time I looked up there was a line.

At about 1:30, when the game started, there was the first break in the line. I thought it was going to wind down, but before I could even finish a sandwich, the line started up again. I didn’t realize how caught up in things I had been until the line finally wound down. I checked my watch and realized it was after 3:00. Then I realized everything and everyone except my wife was gone. Smokehouse was just putting things away. All the food was gone—ALL the food. I was absolutely astounded.

Final recap? 80 books sold. 400+ posters signed. 500 BBQ sandwiches, chips, and drinks consumed. 300+ cupcakes gone. Some incredible number of bookmarks given away. And a ton of new friends made. I would consider that a pretty big success considering that the most books I’d ever sold at a single signing was less than twenty.

I’ve posted some pics below, but I just wanted to tell everyone who came by, thanks so much for making the party such a great success. I wish I could have talked to you all longer, but it meant so much to me to have you there. Now it’s time to buckle down and finish Land Keep. But today, I’m just going to relax and bask!

That's right. Step into the living room and make yourself comfortable as I set up the slide projector. You'll love the one of little Timmy. Did I say one? I meant seventy-one.



At Brockbank Elementary, during my second day of school visits.




I love how many of the kids have great ideas when we are making up the plot for a story.



Three of my helpers with their posters.


Before the launch party begins.



Thank goodness people are buying books!



Not quite Stephenie Myer lines, but the line was there pretty much through the whole event!



My littlest guy serves cupcakes


I signed over 400 posters



Cool cupcake cakes, huh?


That's me and Paul from Barnes and Noble. I'm being interviewed by the local news.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Can't...Type...Must...Read...

by Sariah S. Wilson

Sorry y'all, but I simply can't blog today. I found out that Terry Brooks's new book in his Genesis of Shannara series has been released. I argued with myself - I should have gotten on the waiting list at the library. Funds are a little tight right now, and I knew that I should be smart and wait. But I so thoroughly enjoyed the first one (which I have not done since the Scions of Shannara, his last two series being major crapfests) that I just couldn't wait. I had to go to Barnes & Noble and pick one up.

And then I had to buy the first book in the series, so that I can have the full series. I mean, you can't just have one book in a series, right? It will get lonely.

So, since I've been waiting for this for a year, and now that Her Royal Highness is in bed, I am going to read. And read and read and read. And tell myself tomorrow at 6:00 a.m. that yes, I do have to get up with the baby and at 8:00 a.m. that yes, I do have to go upstairs and get ready for church. It is a sacrifice I am willing to make.

On the new baby front, things seem to be going well still. I have my next appointment in two days.

I do have to report that I did puke last week. It was only once, and I suspect that it was mostly due to eating half a bag of Fritos. (Which is not an exaggeration, but was totally unexpected. I was just going to have a few and then half the bag was gone and then I felt like I was going to throw up.) I worried about Her Highness, because she is a very sensitive little girl who has nightmares about thunder (she wakes up from them crying and saying, "Der! Der! Der!" (her word for thunder). It's so sad. And when we have thunder, her little heart races and I have to hold her, with her face nestled into my neck for as long as the thunder lasts. I'm not looking forward to tomorrow's predicted T-storms) and she is deathly afraid of the vacuum (which is, of course, the perfect excuse not to vacuum. I can't upset the baby! This is still not working as a viable excuse with my husband. I'll let you know if he ever caves).

I worried that since I had to throw up in the kitchen sink (as opposed to the kitchen floor or the kitchen counter, because that was as far as I had made it) that she would get freaked out by the sounds I was making.

She toddled over with her bottle, holding it with one hand. She stood right next to me, holding on to my pant leg with her free hand.

She looked up at me as I retched into the sink...and started to laugh.

And laughed and laughed.

And would laugh even harder whenever I had to spit out that leftover junk that gets stuck in your mouth. She found it highly entertaining.

But anyway, back to the book, I'll let everyone know what I thought of it next week. I can hardly wait to get started!


Friday, September 12, 2008

Craziness

I know this isn't Monday (although I could swear it is Tuesday at the latest) and I know you, I, and everyone else is enjoying the latest Julie post and looking forward to the next Kerry post. But since I missed Monday, and since I have promised a lot of people I would keep them up to date on the ups and downs of this whole national publishing gig, I wanted to give you the update I just posted on the Farworld blog. So if you don't care about this stuff. Feel free to scroll past it and read Julie's fun post on Brandon Mull's "Candy Shop Wars," or wait a few minutes and Kerry's next great post will appear. But if you what to see how things are going, and what I'm learning the hard way, feel free to read on.

I have been the most absentee blogger of all time lately. And considering how much I like to blog and keep you all updated, this tells you how crazy busy things have been. I keep saying, “Things will calm down a little once . . .” Once I get my ARCs sent out, once I get my interviews done, one I get my school presentation done, once my launch party is over.

You get the idea. I’ve got so much I want to talk about, but it just seems like I never have time to sit down and type, and when I do, it’s usually trying to meet the deadline on Land Keep.

But I really want to tell you what’s been going on, and I promised I’d give you a glimpse inside launching a new series. So here goes.


First of all, the books have hit store shelves pretty much everywhere. I have reports from Barnes and Nobles in several states, pretty much all the local stores, and even a Costco here in Utah that had an entire shelf of Farworld books. Here’s a picture I took in a local bookstore. Even people who have ordered from Amazon have reported receiving their books in the mail. If you have read water Keep and haven’t posted a review yet. Jump over and post if you have a chance.

Also as most of you have probably seen, the new website is up http://www.readfarworld.com/. There are several things we need to get added and fixed, but the designer had gallstones or kidney stones. Anyway, some kind of stones. So that got slowed down a little. But I love the look and feel they gave it, and I’m excited we could get elements like the forum, the blog, the teacher section, etc.

One of the things I feel very strongly about is that a web site should be community oriented. It’s cool to have the first chapters of the book, the map, the characters, etc. But it’s even cooler to have a site that is updated regularly. A place where I can talk with other readers and writers about books, publishing, school visits or whatever. I can’t stand static web sites. So I really appreciated all the support I got from Patrick, Chris, and the rest of the SM marketing team.

The next thing we went to work on was the PP slides and the overall school presentation. This was a very tricky thing to nail just right, because we wanted to create a presentation that would keep kids as young as Kindergarten entertained, but would also be educational for kids as old as sixth grade. Not an easy task. I wanted to focus on three main areas: encouraging kids to read, teaching the basics of plotting a story, and reminding the students that they all have magic inside them, and even though they are young, they can accomplish great things. Of course I wanted to sell some books along the way, since my publisher is providing bookmarks and paying for travel expenses. But I didn’t want it to feel like a commercial for Farworld.

I think we succeeded in creating the right presentation. But then it was up to me to take it on the road. And the day to start visiting schools came up much faster than I expected. In fact today was day one. So let me give you a recap of how may first day of school visits went.

Wednesday night, I went over my presentation what seemed like a dozen times. I checked the props for my magic trick and printed out my maps. I went to bed late, but figured I was all set—especially considering that my first assembly wasn’t until 9:30. Of course this morning I woke up and instantly realized all the things I had forgotten. I needed three 8 ½ by 11 cards for my plotting game. Where was the poster board? I couldn’t find the memory card for the camera. I needed to make a couple of last minute changes to the power point slides. Suddenly it was 9:00 and I hadn’t even loaded everything into the car. Fortunately it was a short drive to the school but I got there only a few minutes before 9:30. Fortunately they had everything set up. Unfortunately it takes a long time to get 900+ kids into a gym.

That’s right 900+! What an exciting way to start out my school presentation career. And let me just say the students of Spanish Oaks Elementary are awesome. They were doing this handclapping singing thing that could have landed them a gig on Letterman. And all the kids took part while the rest filed in. The younger kids were on the floor in the first 2/3rds of gym and the older kids brought their chairs in and sat in the back.

Unfortunately the wireless mouse I thought would let me remotely change slides wouldn’t work more than like two feet from the computer. Fortunately, my lovely and talented wife Jennifer was there to help me out. Doing the presentation was amazing. You can’t imagine how cool it is to have 900 kids laughing their heads off and taking part in all the games.

One thing I quickly realized however was that some parts of my presentation were taking too long, and others needed a little more detail. Also, since Jen didn’t know the PP slides, we were a little out of sync. I also need to buy myself a wireless hand microphone so I can get to the back of a large group of students when asking or taking questions. But I had a ball, and hopefully the students did too.

The second thing I learned was that you should never schedule two schools fifteen minutes apart no matter how close they are. That does NOT work. Because I showed up only a few minutes before 9:30, and because it took about fifteen minutes to get all the kids in the gym and get started, I finished my presentation just about the time that I had to start the next one.

Again, much thanks to Mrs. Savage who helped me shove everything in the car and race to the next school. Canyon Elementary was especially fun because it is just around the corner from my house, so I know many of the kids. It was a slightly smaller group because it was just the 3rd through 6th grade. Also, my wife and I were much more in sync. The kids and I had a lot of fun making up a story about a magical giant boy who was ugly but quite friendly. Everyone was very nice and one boy even asked me to sign his forehead. I had to decline on the basis that I thought his mother would kill me. He suggested the back of his hand, but I set a firm rule of not signing any body parts.

From 11:15 to 1:20 we had a slight break. I was hoping it would be a relaxing hour and a half. But another emergency jumped up to bite us. Along with bookmarks, we were handing out invitations to my launch party which is Saturday at the Spanish Fork Library. (More about that later in the post.) But when we checked the box, we realized we’d given out nearly all of them. Quickly we called FedEx Office (formerly FedEx Kinkos) and begged them to make more invitations by 1:00. They came through like champs.

Breathing a sigh of relief, we e-mailed them our file (Thanks for sending it to me, Keith!), and headed to lunch at a local restaurant called Magelbys Fresh. Blacked chicken-stuffed breadsticks were exactly what we needed. Then we rushed off to pick up the invitations and head to East Meadows Elementary. One other thing I learned (are you sensing a trend here?) is in setting up the tour, we didn’t pass along the information that we needed a screen, power cord, etc, clearly enough—or it didn’t get to the right people. Everyone was great about getting things set up, but most weren’t expecting a projector. This was especially an issue because the last two presentations were only 30 and 35 minutes long, and again only twenty minutes between assemblies.

We had a ball though. Part of the presentation is a game where the kids try to guess the elements of a story by asking yes and no questions. What they don’t realize until later is that they aren’t guessing the story at all, but actually making it up. This can have some pretty funny consequences. In this case, we came up with the story of a fifteen-year-old girl with a goatee who was saving animals from a bunch of bad guys.

Again, we had a great time but ended up late to the next school, Larson Elementary. And now there was no wiggle room, because we were right up against the end of the school day. Let me tell you, that was the fastest school presentation I have ever done. But we got through everything—including the story of an orphan boy fighting an evil magician. Afterward, I had tons of kids come up and ask me questions. These kids knew their authors. One was very impressed that I knew Brandon Mull. An aspiring author told me that K.L Fogg had told her about a book that you needed to buy to get an agent or a publisher, but she couldn’t remember the name of the book.

“Writers Market?” I suggested.

Her whole face lit up. “Yes, that’s exactly it!”

She promised to come by my forum and ask lots of writing questions. I even know what her user name will be, so I am looking forward to hearing from her. Lots of students thanked me. And many promised to come to the launch party on Saturday. And let me tell you, talk about polite kids. As Jen and I were starting to carry our things out the back door, several students came up at the same time. The oldest boy held open the door, and said to the other kids. “Stand back, let the grown ups come through.”

What a great time we had! I have to give a huge shout out to the students, teachers, and staff of Spanish Oaks, Canyon, East Meadows, and Larson. You were all great. Thanks for putting up with this neophyte and making my first day such an incredible experience!

Finally the day was over. We picked up our own boys from their school, (I go there tomorrow), and headed to my parents’ house for sub sandwiches, swimming, and games. A great way to end the day. (Okay, actually I’m ending the day by writing this blog and then putting each of the schools stories on my forum like I promised, but that’s beside the point.)

What did I learn today?

1) Schedule each school at least 30 minutes apart minimum. You need some wiggle room.
2) Call the schools in advance and make sure they are aware of what you need.
3) On the way to my parents, I bought a good Targus clicker, since Jen won’t be with me tomorrow.
4) I couldn’t do it today, but before the two week tour I will buy a hand held cordless microphone. It is essential if you are going to interact with the older kids who are generally sitting in the back of the gym.
5) Kids love to laugh. I am keeping track of what parts of the presentation made them laugh the most and making sure I keep those parts in.
6) Tell things in your own words. As soon as you start to read your presentation, kids start to squirm. I’m not saying kids don’t like to be read to, but if you try to read a book or even a section of a book to 900+ kids, you will start to lose them.
7) However kids love to hear about your story. You should have seen their eyes light up when I told them about the bad guy who captures Marcus and turns into a giant black snake. They ate that up.
8) If you are going to do school presentations, start close to home. I can’t imagine how much more stressful this would have been if I’d been trying to pull this whole thing off by myself on the road.
9) Finally, kids are awesome! They tell it like it is, but they are so willing to take part in any activity. It made my heart swell to hear a whole gym full of kids shout, “The most powerful magic is inside ME!!!” Let me just say that despite what you might hear, our country is going to be in good hands in the future.
10) And that is a huge credit to the great teachers we have. These students were so sharp and creative. There is no doubt in my mind that their teachers are doing an incredible job in panting great seeds in these fertile little heads.

So that’s it for day one. Tomorrow I hit three more schools. Brockbank, American Leadership Academy, and Riverview. I think I’ll have things more under control. Of course at the same time, my wife and I are finalizing everything for the big launch party on Saturday. Which brings me to my last point.

If you are anywhere near Utah County, COME!!!!! It’s going to be a great party. We have a local barbeque place serving free barbeque sandwiches. We have four Farworld cakes that are actually made of cupcakes. We’ve got free posters, free sodas and chips, drawings. We’re selling and signing books. And twenty percent of the proceeds go to the Spanish Fork library.

Here are the details.

Where: Spanish Fork Library
49 S Main StSpanish Fork, UT 84660(801) 798-5010

When: Saturday, September 13th 12:00-3:00

We’ve advertised this like crazy. We’ve sent out notices in all the Spanish Fork utility bills for the last month. I’m inviting something like 5,000 kids from eight schools. I’ve got family inviting everyone they know. And yet I still have nightmares of no one showing up. So come if you can. And cross your fingers if you can’t. Now I need to update my forum. Then get some rest.


More tomorrow.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mulling Over Brandon Mull

by Julie Coulter Bellon

My 10 year old son and I finished our Summer Reading Book Club this week, ending off with Brandon Mull’s Candy Shop Wars. It’s a story about a group of four friends who discover that “magical strangers have all come to town in search of a legendary, hidden treasure---one that could be used for great evil if it fell into the wrong hands.” Of course the children try to find the treasure first and come across several very dangerous situations and even more strange people. But the most fantastical of all is when they meet Mrs. White, the owner of a candy shop who introduces them to different sorts of candy that can make them weightless, unbreakable, change shape, and electrify people to name a few. But too much candy is never good for you . . .

In addition to the fantasy stuff, the kids also have to deal with bullies, boring teachers, and parental rules, which I liked, since it was quite realistic. I liked how the author had four different sorts of kids---the new kid in school, the smart kid, the girl who can hold her own, and the semi-popular kid. There was someone everyone could relate to. I also thought there was plenty for parents and kids to discuss after reading the book besides which candy would you want to try. For instance, my son and I talked about how you can’t judge someone just on their outside appearances. Sometimes people who seem nice and caring aren’t really, and sometimes people who seem bad really are, but you have to be careful because sometimes they aren’t. We also talked about how the parents reacted to the children after they’d eaten the fudge and how the kids really did miss the parental guidance after a while. I remember reading some reviews a while back and one reader had mentioned that they didn’t care for the way the parents were practically drugged and thought that the book somehow equated drugs to candy. I didn’t get that impression myself, and I thought the author did a good job of showing how bad and addictive something can be, not only for yourself, but for those around you as well. It was some good mother/son discussion anyway.

I was very interested to see my son’s reaction to the book and he loved it. He saw himself in Nate (they share the same name so he thought that was cool, too!) and was especially impressed with Nate’s quick thinking. His favorite part was how Nate used the Clean Slate candy and how much he cared about his friends. His least favorite part was when the kids break into the Candy Shop. It was a little too suspenseful for him and gave him chills. But he gave the book two thumbs up and I did, too.

Coincidentally, Brandon Mull is making an appearance at my local library next week. Since my son and I are two of his newest fans, we plan on going, and want to see if he will sign our book for us. It would definitely be the perfect ending to an especially memorable and really fun Bellon Summer Book Club.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Moving Adventure

by Stephanie Black

Life has been crazy lately. I finished my new manuscript and submitted it (woohoo!) school started for four of my five kids, and we moved. We’re sort of almost settled in our new house, but there is still more unpacking to come. I predict that we will never be able to fit our car in the garage. Seriously. And what is in all those boxes?

Moving is always way up there on the stress-o-meter, and we’ve done it a lot. The longest we’ve been in any one house is four years. I did the math, and we’ve moved, on average, every 1.46 years. The shortest move was from apartment to apartment in the same complex (yes, that still counts as moving—if you have to haul everything from one place to another, it’s a move, even if it’s just across six feet of breezeway!). The longest move involved crossing the Atlantic. Our most recent move was a massive one, stuff-wise (strangely, we seem to have more stuff than we did when we were changing apartments in our BYU days) but a mini one, distance-wise—about half a mile. We’ve been renting for the four years we’ve lived in northern California, due to the completely freaky Twilight-Zone-esque cost of housing. We spent a lot of time playing the “Do we stay or do we go?” game, endlessly trying to figure out our plans. Did we stay and try to make a go of it here, or did we pack it up and go somewhere else, which would mean our kids (my oldest is now a senior in high school) would have to start over in a new location? Urgh. But prices have come down a bit, and this summer we finally took the plunge and bought a house. It’s in the same neighborhood as our ex-rental house, which we’re very happy about. Our kids don’t have to change schools—hooray!—and we don’t have to change wards. The house needs work, and we have a hundred-item to-do list that should keep us busy until the Millennium and beyond, but it’s ours, and we’re delighted to own our own place again.

We’re hoping to break our record and stay here more than four years. Wish us luck. We’re planning to stay here a good long while, but who knows what will happen? I wouldn’t have predicted that we’d end up selling our first house after three and a half years and moving across the country, but my husband got bitten by the grad school bug, and he got accepted to a graduate program that was such a great opportunity that no way would I have wanted him to miss it. With our second home, we left to go overseas for my husband’s job. I am completely non-adventurous and wasn’t excited to go, but it was such a fantastic opportunity that I knew I’d regret it if we didn’t do it, and truly, I’m very grateful we had that chance.

But now I am so ready to put down roots, and despite our track record, I think we’ve got a good chance of staying put for a couple of decades or more. With older kids, moving is a lot harder than it used to be. A toddler doesn’t care where you live. For a kindergartener, moving is more an adventure than anything. For a highschooler—not so fun. So I think we're safe in getting rid of those moving boxes . . . maybe.


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sarah Palin Speaks!

by Robison Wells

We at the Frog Blog have decided that the public wants its politics right now, and who are we to fight it? So, without further ado, we present the first in a series of interviews with the candidates. Today's interview is with none other than Sarah Palin, the newly appointed Republican candidate for vice president.

I had the chance to sit down with Sarah shortly after the convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. We went to a lovely little seafood place in the Minnetonka Park; I had the crab cake sandwich and Sarah had the crawfish po' boy.

Rob: Sarah Palin! I'd like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me. I know that your constituents--or, at least, the seven of them that read the Frog Blog--will be very pleased.

Sarah: No problem. John McCain and I have been targeting the LDS aspiring authors segment pretty hard this last week. It was only natural that I'd come.

Rob: Let me assure you that at least some of our readers will probably vote in the election, or at least think about it. And you can take that to the bank.

Sarah: I knew I could count on you.

Rob: So, let's get down to brass tacks. I understand that when you were a basketball player in high school you had the nickname Sarah Barracuda.

Sarah: You are correct, sir.

Rob: That's too bad, because I'd have preferred they call you "The Alaskan Assassin".

Sarah: That's what I wanted, too, but it was already taken by Trajan Langdon. He played for Duke.

Rob: That's lame. Trajan isn't even a real name--he shouldn't have a nickname.

Sarah: Other nicknames I wanted but were already taken: The Baron of the Bluegrass, The Dunking Dutchman, The Croatian Sensation, Gentleman Joe, and The Polish Powderkeg.

Rob: Not only were those already taken, but The Polish Powderkeg plays football, not basketball. He's a kicker for the Raiders.

Sarah: Whatever.

Rob: Anyway, the point is: Obama plays basketball, too, so I was thinking that you and he could play and let that decide the race.

Sarah: And McCain and Biden would watch?

Rob: They'd play horseshoes, or something. But seriously, if McCain had a nickname, what would it be?

Sarah: Either "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" or "The Fastest Man in Japan".

Rob: I hereby declare he is now John "The Fastest Man in Japan" McCain.

Sarah: Done.

Rob: So, the real question is this: I hear that you were once somehow affiliated with the Alaskan Crazy Person Party.

Sarah: The Libertarians?

Rob and Sarah: HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

Sarah: Libertarians!

Rob: What a bunch of nutjobs!

Sarah: Oh my. [Laughter] Pardon me. No, I assume you mean the Alaskan Independence Party?

Rob: Yes, I do.

Sarah: No, I wasn't a member. But not because I disagreed with them, but because they didn't take things far enough. They claim that the vote to make Alaska a state was illegal.

Rob: And that's not far enough?

Sarah: Not nearly. I claim that the transaction purchasing Alaska from the Russians wasn't legitimate.

Rob: ...so, you think Alaska should be Russian?

Sarah: Of course. But the good kind of Russians, not the bad. We just want all our women to be gymnasts and all our men to do that dance where they're squatting and kicking their legs out.

Rob: But not the crappy, kill 50 million of your own people stuff?

Sarah: Well, not much of that.

Rob: Great. So, what other political positions are important to you?

Sarah: Waffles. I really like waffles.

Rob: I like waffles, too.

Sarah: No, I mean I'm a firm supporter of waffle rights, like a "You can pry this waffle out of my cold dead hands" kind of thing.

Rob: Wow.

Sarah: I also want to declare war on Madagascar. Just because it'd be easy, and we need a good blowout victory to build morale in the military.

Rob: Indeed. In other news, there have been many complaints that you're too inexperienced to be Vice President. After all, you're only the governor in Alaska, and that's not even a real place. It's like being mayor of McDonaldland.

Sarah: I am happy to report that Alaska has had no incidents of hamburger theft. Can Mayor McCheese say that?

Rob: Wikipedia reports that he is "giggly, bumbling and somewhat incompetent".

Sarah: No one has ever said that about me.

Rob: So what have you accomplished in Alaska?

Sarah: Tons. Like, I'll bet you didn't know that the state insect is the Four-Spot Skimmer Dragonfly. And, sometimes we ride dogsleds.

Rob: That's an impressive resume, indeed.

Sarah: And we've been implanting microchips in the necks of school children.

Rob: What?

Sarah: What?

Rob: You just said--

Sarah: Let's talk about you for a minute.

Rob: But, didn't you just say--

Sarah: Well, I gotta run. Remember: you can't spell "Sarah Palin thinks America is awesome" without "Sarah Palin"!

Rob: Okay, I guess.

Sarah: Thanks.

Rob: But--

Sarah: Bye!