Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tornado Warnings

Just stopping by to say that I'm about to turn my computer off for the night as we have numerous dangerous thunderstorms in my area and several instances of tornadoes (tornados? I can't ever remember which is right) touching down. So we're shutting down all non-essential items to ride this storm out.

It got me thinking that there doesn't really seem to be anywhere you can live in the U.S. where you don't have to worry about natural disasters - fires, floods, earthquakes, wind storms, hurricanes, tornadoes (tornados?), etc.

What natural disaster do you have to worry about in your neck of the woods?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Amanda McKittrick Ros: My Hero!

by Kerry Blair

Let’s just admit it: as authors we want nothing more than a “million and one” fans “who thirst for aught that drops from (our) pen.” We yearn for our life’s work to be “talked about at the end of a thousand years.” We’re just too modest to admit it.

Well, most of us are too modest. You probably figured out by now that I stole those lines verbatim from Jeff’s mission statement.

No! I didn’t! I stole them from a brilliant “The Last Page” article in this month’s Smithsonian magazine in which Miles Corwin quoted the incomparable Elizabethan novelist Amanda McKittrick Ros. Here is an excerpt from one of her first chapters:

She tried hard to keep herself a stranger to her poor old father's slight income by the use of the finest production of steel, whose blunt edge eyed the reely covering with marked greed, and offered its sharp dart to faultless fabrics of flaxen fineness.

So, what do you think our heroine was doing in that sentence? Delina was, in fact, contributing to the family’s meager income by working as a seamstress. Yes, really. It’s crystal clear in comparison to the lines that begin the book:

Have you ever visited that portion of Erin's plot that offers its sympathetic soil for the minute survey and scrutinous examination of those in political power, whose decision has wisely been the means before now of converting the stern and prejudiced, and reaching the hand of slight aid to share its strength in augmenting its agricultural richness? (Delina Delany, 1898.)

Don’t you just love that name? It makes me want to run out and get a puppy just so I can name her Delina Delany. (Note to husband: no puppy. I swear!)

But back to the opening line. I know she’s talking about Ireland (mostly because I know the book was set there) but that – and that I love it! – are all I know. At least I’m in good company. A contemporary wrote: I first read this sentence nearly three years ago. Since then, I have read it once a week in an increasingly desperate search for meaning. But I still don't understand it. It is magnificent in its impenetrable mystery; it is the riddle of the sphinx, the smile of the Mona Lisa. It sounds wonderful, but remains impervious to comprehension.

Amanda Ros is my hero! (I bet she loved adverbs almost as much as alliteration!)

Amanda Malvina Fitzalan Anna Margaret McLelland McKittrick Ros was born in Ireland in 1860. Her first book was published by her beloved husband in 1898 and soon became a sensation, recognized by some of the greatest literary figures of the generation: C.S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley, and J. R.R. Tolkien. It was a rather dubious following, since Lewis, Tolkien and their cronies held contests to see who could read aloud from her works the longest without bursting out laughing. Mark Twain dubbed Irene Iddlesleigh “one of the greatest unintentionally humorous novels of all time,” and Huxley observed: "It is remarkable how late in the history of every literature simplicity is invented."

Unlike many of the entries in Storymakers’ recent first chapter contest, Amanda worried not at all about criticism, constructive or otherwise. In the preface to her second book she called one reviewer “a clay crab of corruption” and another “a cancerous irritant wart.” (Like you’ve never thought it? Please.)

Corwin wrote: Ros, who died in 1939, abused (some would say, tortured) the English language in three novels and dozens of poems. She refers to eyes as "globes of glare," legs as "bony supports," pants as a "southern necessary," (my personal favorite) sweat as "globules of liquid lava" and alcohol as the "powerful monster of mangled might."

Her gift for dialogue was equally amazing: “Speak! Irene! Wife! Woman! Do not sit in silence and allow the blood that now boils in my veins to ooze through cavities of unrestrained passion and trickle down to drench me with its crimson hue!”

Lest you are still not convinced of this woman’s genius, I’ll toss in a poem I found while googling her this morning. It was written upon a visit to the famed Westminster Abbey.

Holy Moses! Have a look!
Flesh decayed in every nook!
Some rare bits of brain lie here,
Mortal loads of beef and beer,
Some of whom are turned to dust,
Every one bids lost to lust;
Royal flesh so tinged with 'blue'
Undergoes the same as you.”

That is, beyond doubt, the best description of the place I have ever read.

Now that you've been tentatively introduced to this illustrious literary luminary, I can only think of one better use of ten or fifteen minutes of a Friday afternoon than laughing yourself silly over Corwin’s article. That would be to use the time to enter the First (as far as I know) Amanda Malvina Fitzalan Anna Margaret McLelland McKittrick Ros Appreciation Contest. Write a first sentence of a novel – any genre – to rival Delina Delany. The only stipulations are that it must be a single sentence and florid enough to please even Amanda.

I don’t know yet what you’ll win. Goodness knows I can’t afford one of her books – sought-after collector’s items around the globe. Nor can I say whether or not the words that “dropped from her pen” will be around in a thousand years. But with the aid of Google, Wikipedia, and good-natured literature professors, they just might!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Take It or Leave It

by Julie Coulter Bellon

One of my jobs for the recent LDS Storymakers Conference was to help coordinate judges and comment sheets for the First Chapter Contest. There were some amazing entries in the contest this year and some work that was so incredible, if the rest of the manuscript was as great as the first chapter, it should definitely be published. But the First Chapter contest coordination was a huge job because each entry received in the contest got five critiques from industry professionals.


Five critiques from authors, editors, and publishing professionals for around $10. That is huge and after hearing some comments about the critiques, I thought I would share some of my feelings here.

Critiques are useful in several ways. They can give an author an objective view of the work that they’ve been doing for so long that they can’t see the forest from the trees. They can point out mistakes that the author hasn’t seen, plot holes, character weaknesses, and where the author needs to concentrate their revisions. Critiques are sometimes hard to take for an author, though, because if they’re done right, they will point out the flaws in the writing, but at times, they aren’t balanced with praise and sensitive authors can be hurt. All in all, a good critique is generally constructive criticism.

As authors, however, we can look at critiques and say to ourselves, “well, they obviously didn’t read the work I did or they would understand it better.” Or, “maybe they are just mean people in real life and never have a kind word to say.” Another thing I think authors say is, “well, one critique said one thing and one said another, what should I do?”

An author is not obligated to do anything with a critique. You can throw it away if you want. But I wouldn’t recommend it. Critiques are often your keys to fixing your manuscript and making it publishable. But only you, as the author, can decide which criticism you are going to accept and change. You don’t have to change anything, but it’s generally in your manuscript’s best interest to at least consider what others have said, especially if more than one critique is saying the same thing and pointing out the same mistakes. But the most frustrating thing for me as an author is when two people say exactly opposite things about my manuscript. For example, I had one critique that said, “I hate the character of Pepper,” while another critique said they thought Pepper was a fresh and interesting character. As an author, I had to step back and see that that was opinion. The person who said they hated Pepper didn’t offer any specifics, “I hate how Pepper is indecisive and cliché,” or anything like that. It was just a flat opinion, so I didn’t change anything, and I concentrated on other areas. But did I throw away all the rest of the comments from that critique because of one opinion? No. I looked at everything brought up, decided what I could fix or find useful, then I changed that and left the rest alone. I also keep every critique I’ve ever gotten for a manuscript, and before I go to final edit, I go through them all again and make sure I’ve fixed or addressed everything I wanted to do.

I also think that authors put different weight on critiques depending on who they are from. If you knew that that harsh critique was from a publishing house, would you put more weight on fixing it if they were someone you wanted to publish with? If it’s an author that you don’t even like, do you look at their criticisms differently? Yet each criticism is legitimate and, in my opinion, should be looked at and given consideration no matter who they are from.

The judges in the First Chapter Contest worked hard. One judge spent over forty hours trying to give critiques that would help each author (and these are pretty much volunteer hours since the judges only get a small honorarium for their work). I can’t think of any other scenario where an author would get five critiques of a work by professionals for such a low price. Yet, some seemed disappointed that all the critiques weren’t gushing and praising them and sounded like they were going to disregard all the comments outright. That made me sad, because I think those authors have missed the point of a critique. If you don’t agree with the criticism, that is your right, but don’t discard it. Really look at what they’ve said, and take it for how it was meant---to help you as an author. I know it can be hard sometimes and it’s easy to just shrug and say, “well, I don’t agree with what they said.” That’s fine, but at least look at the comments. Really look. See if there is merit there. I hate to see all that work thrown out because I know how valuable it truly is and how hard the judges were trying to help the authors.

I also know that when you become a published author, you will get a lot of critiques both before and after your book is published and they aren’t all gushing and praising then, either. Learning how to handle critiques is essential for an author. Take a deep breath, then plunge in and read all the comments. You don’t have to take them all to heart, but at least consider them. Look at every issue brought up to see if there is anything that needs to change or not. More often than not, changes have made my manuscripts stronger, even if I was discouraged or hated it in the moment. Or if someone is standing in front of you telling you something about your manuscript, take a deep breath, and thank them for their comments. Because even if you don’t take their comments and use them to change your work, that person still took the time to tell you something they thought would help you. You may have to grit your teeth, smile, and thank them, but still thank them.

Of course, that’s just my advice. In the end, it’s all up to you, the author. Take it or leave it. But I hope you take it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Desperation and Deadlines

by Stephanie Black

Oops, yeah, I was supposed to blog today. Well, it IS still today for a few more hours, right?

I just got back from a youth temple trip to Oakland. One of my favorite parts of serving in Young Women’s is attending the youth baptism trips. Three of my children were there with me tonight, so that was awesome. My oldest daughter graduates from high school in two weeks. I'll soon be the mother of a college student. But I'd like to report that I still look so young that a lady at the door had to clarify that I was the lady of the house, because apparently, I could pass for one of the kids in the household. I was flattered. She then wanted me to donate money to her cause, but I’m willing to believe her compliment anyway because I’m just that desperate.

Speaking of desperation, yeah, that was me, sitting in the FedEx parking lot at five-something yesterday afternoon, frantically making sure all the pages of Methods of Madness were facing the right way so I could make the 5:45 priority overnight shipping deadline. Down to the wire, as usual. It’s all about the adrenaline rush.

This page thing is trickier than it sounds, because the manuscript was printed on both sides of the paper, which means it’s mega-easy to get your pages backward. Overall, the manuscript looked a bit more hammered when I finished with it than it did when it arrived all nice and neat, smooth and white, with nice red pen marks. By the time I was through with it, it had been carried around for days, penciled on, erased, penciled on again, and penciled on some more. I edit in pencil; I can’t possibly do it in pen. Erasers give their lives for my manuscripts. I’m puzzled and awed by people who can edit in pen. That’s so . . . decisive! It’s something I just can’t comprehend, like how microchips work and the meaning of Paul Simon lyrics.

I’m grateful that I got an extra day with the book. Originally I’d planned to send it on Monday, but with the Memorial Day holiday, FedEx was closed that day, so that meant I’d need to ship it on Tuesday. I needed every minute of that extra day and would have liked a few more minutes, or a few hundred, actually. My goal was to make it through the whole manuscript twice, and I almost made it—I was about thirty or so pages short of that goal when I ran out of time. I’d have loved to hang onto the manuscript for another week, but given that the book comes out in August, I really needed to get it back to my editor. So I turned it in, but I haven’t stopped stressing about it. Today, I started worrying about this one issue at the end . . . should I change it . . . is it okay . . . should I really have named the villain Jeffrey “Scott” Wells, and was that beard a little over-the-top?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bone Warriors

So, I look back at the last four Mondays, wondering how the guest blogs went and what do I see? Nothing? What happened to those big stars who promised to blog? Stephenie? Stephen? Dan? John? You all bailed on me? That's it, you’ll just have to find a way to make vampires smooching, horror, conspiracies, and lawyers successful on your own.

That's right, Mr. King, laugh it up. Until you see how your next book sells without the power of the frog behind you!

Actually, I do apologize for being missing in action the last few weeks. I’ve been pushing hard to finish Land Keep in time for a September release. The good news is that it is done. Hurray! And I really think this may be the best book I have ever written. Here’s a quote from someone who just finished it. “Seriously that was amazing such a cool battle. although part of me wonders how the next book can be better :) It really so much better than the first book and the first book was great.”

So yay! Now I can finish the next Shandra book (which is very nearly done), a couple of other projects, and get back to reading as well. Speaking of reading, I had the chance recently to read Bone Warriors, a fantasy debut by Bron Bahlmann an author and friend I met for the first time several years ago.

I have to admit that when I agreed to read Bone Warriors, I did it for two reasons. One was that his mother, Shirley Bahlmann, is a good friend and wonderful author. The second reason was that I wanted to see what a fifteen-year-old could pull off. Let me clarify, this is not an author who started writing the story when he was fifteen, this is an author who is fifteen, right now, with his first published book in hand. He started writing the story when he was eleven.

Do you remember what your writing was like when you were eleven? Was it even remotely publishable? Mine was not. So I went into the story with both curiosity and trepidation. What I found was writing like this:

Two huge figures lumbered out from a copse of dark trees. Each walked into the meadow on two thin legs beneath bodies that were twice as tall as a man and three times as broad. The bone men appeared to be scarlet lacework gone horribly wrong, with wide spaces between woven sections. Wobbling skulls sat on top of the bone skeletons and turned with quick jerks to find bodies to stack in their giant arms like sodden firewood. Only when the sun buried itself beneath the horizon did the monstrous bodies gleam sickly white in the moonlight. The bone golems’ jerky movements came from a random attachment of bones. Never stopping, they used their strangely fitted joints to silently carry out the grisly task until not a single body was left in the trampled meadow. Then the golems deserted the bloody battlefield, disappearing beneath the dark trees with their grisly burdens.

Cool stuff, huh? I finished Bone Warriors in a day, and really enjoyed it. It’s an exciting read that fantasy lovers young and old will enjoy. It is creepy enough to raise shivers and exciting enough to keep you reading late into the night. I completely enjoyed the characters and have passed it on to my sons to read.

It’s not perfect. There are mistakes. But they are very small things like word usage or things that an editor should catch—many long paragraphs that should be broken, starting too many paragraphs in a row with the name of the protagonist (Derik did this, Derik did that), using the same word too close together, etc.

But the story itself is outstanding enough that you quickly stop noticing any errors. Great characters, lots of action, plenty of intrigue. The ultimate complement an author can receive is that the reader forgets who the author is and gets lost in the story. This was absolutely the case here. Bron writes a great tale, that I thoughly enjoyed reading and I suspect there are many more to come from him.

So I asked him if we could do a little Q&A. Here are his answers.

1) How old are you really? You know you can’t be fifteen and publishing your first book, because that’s just not fare. So fess up.

Okay, you all caught on, so I'll confess, I'm actually 15 1/2 years old. Sorry for misleading you.

2) Give us the background on how this book came to be.
The book came to be when I mixed one dream with 3 years of hard work and a coating of imagination. (I had the dream when I was 11, and finished the book at 14.)

3) Why fantasy?
I've always loved fantasy because it lets me make the story any way I want and lets me share my dreams with others.

4) Exact moment you found out your book had been accepted. How? Reaction? Celebration?
It was honestly one of the happiest moments in my life. My grandma and two aunts and several cousins brought over pizza and a cake that read, "Congratulations!" and we had a surprise party. I felt excited and relieved. (When the books came out, I gave them each one for free. I mean, it was worth it for pizza and cake!) I also felt a new urge and power to finish the rest of my books.

5) How have your friends at school reacted to you being a published author?

There have been a lot of different reactions. Most people start with a disbelieving reaction. "Really?" and "You're kidding!" are among the most popular. After they realize it's true, they move on to a type of greed mixed with envy and excitement. It's then that they ask how much money I make. They are lowered back down to disbelief when I tell them I only make about 45 cents per book. My best friends are very supportive, though.

6) Do you find beautiful women, other than your mom, following you around asking for an autograph or phone number?
Only a couple so far, but I'm actually hoping the number of girls stays minimal. (I don't like the smell of ammonia, which is what it takes to bring them around.)

7) What’s next?
Next is to work as hard as I can plus a little more to finish my next book and still keep my grades up!
Thanks, Bron! Can't wait to read the next one.
Bone Warrior's is published by Cedar Fort
It is available in many bookstores and on-line from Amazon

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Random Things I Like This Week

by Sariah S. Wilson

I didn't get to post yesterday. May is a very busy month for us, what with it being the birthday month for our three oldest. Yesterday we went to the Cincinnati Zoo where it was blisteringly hot and extremely uncomfortable - which made everyone miserable and exhausted by the time we finally packed it in. So we got home, had our birthday celebration for the now 7-year-old and the kids went to bed. I laid down on the couch with the baby thinking that I needed to go and blog and next thing I knew, it was 1:30 in the morning and the baby wanted to eat.

I thought I'd just list some things I've been enjoying lately.

Chocodiles: For those not fortunate enough to know, Chocodiles are magical treats from Hostess. They're a Ding Dong/Twinkie hybrid, e.g., a chocolate-covered Twinkie (sheer genius, I tell you!). While watching the season finale of "Lie To Me," the sociopath asked for a box of Chocodiles a week in exchange for his cooperation. That got me thinking about Chocodiles and how much I used to love them. Turns out they don't sell them in the East or Midwest because they have a very short shelf life. You can only buy them out West. So I found a website that promised fresh Chocodiles and placed an order. That was almost two weeks ago. I don't have them yet. But I'm still looking forward to them and excited for their arrival.

Free Chocolate: Mars (the chocolate company, not the Roman god of war) is giving away coupons for free chocolate bars to the first 250,000 visitors every Friday morning between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. EST. You're allowed to get four coupons per household, and the promotion runs until September, so even if you're not among the first 250,000, you may still get a chance down the road. They do send you an email to let you know that you're going to get a coupon.

The History Channel: I'm not a fan of modern warfare. I much prefer ancient fighting, and The History Channel is chockfull of such awesomeness. My new favorite shows include:

Warriors - Hosted by Terry Schappert, a Green Beret who is obviously very skilled and very enthusiastic about what he's learning, he makes an excellent host. (Plus I love the stuff that gets him choked up, even if he is too manly to ever actually cry.) In every episode he covers different ancient warriors - Spartans, Hawaiians, Zulu, Samurais, etc. - he talks to experts on the weapons and the history and then learns how to fight and train the way the warriors did. The stuff I've been learning about ancient hand-to-hand combat is amazing. I've already planned to ask for the first season on DVD as a Christmas gift so that I can watch it over and over again. (Also because I missed the Maya episode - the one I most wanted to see!)

Battles B.C. - This comes down to appreciating military strategies, seeing how military men who lived during the time of the Bible and Book of Mormon strategized and fought (i.e., getting to appreciate that Alexander the Great was a military genius). I also like the way I've been able to extract elements from historical events that I can use in future novels. For example - I want a heroine that is a knife expert, but I couldn't figure out how to make that realistic or believable. That is, until I saw an episode that showed me exactly how I could do it by using real events.

Deadliest Warriors - This isn't a History Channel show, it's actually on Spike TV. But it falls along the same lines as the other two. It takes two random warriors from different time periods/places and pits them against one another in a fight - like a Viking versus a Samurai or a Spartan versus a ninja. Experts/historians show off their weapons and fighting techniques, and then a computer program runs 1,000 simluations between the two warriors to see who would have won, and at the end of the show two actors, dressed as the warriors, fight to show you who won the most simulations. Again, another show I've learned an incredible amount from regarding hand-to-hand fighting techniques. I'm wondering if I can deduct my satellite costs from my taxes as a writing resource.

Glee - The new dark comedy on Fox that is going to have an out-of-this-world soundtrack. My almost 2-year-old regularly demands that I replay the ending choral scene of "Don't Stop Believin.'" She loves it. I loved the humor and the music and the pairing of the main characters, who so far are essentially Troy Bolton and Tracy Flick.

Star Trek - Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto (IMO) - pitch perfect as Kirk and Spock. I'm not a convention attender or anything, but I think I have watched every incarnation of Star Trek (I gave up halfway through Enterprise, but I did watch the reruns until I saw how the show ended). I would have liked the movie a lot better had I understood the basic premise before I went and saw it, but I think I'll like it even more a second time now that I understand how these writers were playing things.

What about you? Any new favorite things you want to share with the group?

Friday, May 22, 2009

To Blog or Not to Blog -- Guest Post by Lynn Gardner

posted by Kerry Blair

Lynn Gardner is an icon in our market. (I would certainly worship at her shrine if she had one -- and if we could do that sort of thing without breaking several covenants and at least one commandment.) She had published the first two books in her "Jewel" series before it ever occurred to me to open a book of LDS fiction, let alone try to write one. Fortunately, I never read one of Lynn's books before I was published. If I had, I'd have surely given up the idea before I started. Not only does Lynn have a rare gift, she has the sometimes rarer ability to thoroughly research her plot and setting and thereby imbue her books with realism and romanticism. Lynn can make a reader experience a book -- and love every minute of it.

After eight books of emeralds (and espionage), jade (and jeopardy) and the like, Lynn created her first serial sleuth: Maggie McKenzie. I read Vanished in one sitting and -- like a legion of others -- have waited a virtual lifetime for the next installment. It's finally here! Pursued hit the shelves this week. Since the nearest copy sits on a shelf more than a hundred miles from my front door, I am relying on my beloved Seagull on Redwood to ship me a copy post haste. In the meantime, I've been reading -- and loving -- Lynn's new website. She's added a gem I wish all my favorite authors would include: a "story behind the story" feature in which she discusses her research, muses, and how each of her many books came about. I found it nearly as fascinating as the novels themselves.

It's obviously too late to not gush, but I'll reign myself in now and let you read Lynn's blog on blogging. I borrowed it (with permission) from V-Formation where she is a regular contributor.

To Blog or Not to Blog

by Lynn Gardner

What makes a person open their hearts (feelings), minds (thoughts), and entire soul and lay them out to be examined and dissected to anyone who happens upon it? Why would anyone pour out their whole being onto a page in a rush of words that gushes like a waterfall cascading unimpeded down a chasm, sometimes making perfect sense and at other times not at all?

Is it the desire to have our say about something? Do we feel the need to explain ourselves and what we do and why we do it? Or are we just naturally anxious to participate in what is going on in the world (ours and the one at large) at the moment and this is our forum?

All this marvelous technology (which I believe has been a blessing given to us in order to more easily do our family history!) has presented opportunities we've never before had to make our voices heard, to get our opinions out there. We "little people" can now speak and be heard.

But do we stop and think about what we have to say before saying it? Do we realize the consequences of hitting that send button before we do it? I'm loving the opportunities that give us a voice, but I worry about the things that are flooding the airwaves because some don't think about the consequences of what they are sending or saying.

Political careers, jobs, families, personal friends - all can be tragically affected by a careless or thoughtless click of the send button. Who would have ever thought it would be so easy to destroy another person? Two minutes at the keyboard, send, and instantly the world can know things that were better left untold.

On the other hand, what an incredible tool for sharing good news, for teaching, for learning, for discovering new worlds and new friends. What an opportunity to open our minds to new thoughts and expand our knowledge on infinite subjects. What a marvelous way to bridge the communication gap and speak to people we would have never known in any other way.

I would never known about Clarence, the angel cat, or how often Kerry's Blessings book has helped people, or how to get someone to answer a door late at night, or the marked differences between the English and the Americans, or how a loving grandmother has influenced a life, and all the other fascinating things that I've learned just in the last week. So keep on blogging and sharing your lives to enrich mine!

It's like sitting down and having a conversation in my living room with a friend, or inviting a new friend into my home and becoming acquainted. Doors are opening faster than I can get to them all and I'm loving it! New babies, death in the family, frustrations of teenagers, triumphs and tragedies, sneezes and sniffles and debilitating illness - all can be shared in an instant. What an incredible tool we have been given!

To blog or not to blog? No longer a question! Of course we must! Thank you for inviting me into your world!

Lynn's blog is HERE, her website is HERE, and her newest book can be perused (and ordered!) HERE.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Books for Writing, Books for Fun

by Julie Coulter Bellon

An editor recommended to me once, that, if I wanted to read a book with outstanding pacing and suspense, I should read The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. I picked it up a week ago and it is definitely not light reading. It’s an 642 page march through Eastern Europe and is a historical fiction lover’s dream. The chapters are short, which adds to the suspense, but also breaks up a long book. It’s deliciously creepy and suspenseful, chronicling a search for Vlad the Impaler who some call, Drakulya. The author blends fiction with reality in that Vlad was a real historical figure and an immensely cruel man, but the premise of the book is that perhaps his cruelty may live on if he achieved immortality. A note to the reader begins, “This is the story of how as a girl of sixteen I went in search of my father and his past, and of how he went in search of his beloved mentor and his mentor's own history, and of how we all found ourselves on one of the darkest pathways into history." People disappear on that path. And die in mysterious ways. And have paintings with dark figures behind them painted. That path will give you a shiver of fear before you turn the page, that’s for sure.

I’ve been reading a few chapters of The Historian every night before bed and I’m getting to really creepy parts that make me think I might want to start reading in the daylight. It’s not horror, or anything like that, but very suspenseful and mysterious. I’m also learning a lot about eastern Europe and it makes me want to visit there someday. I’m enjoying the author’s writing more than I thought I would, and the size of the book seems manageable once I got into the story. I’m told there’s a little of everything in this book, from suspense all the way to romance, but since I’m not quite halfway through, we’ll have to see about that.

I also read, The Icing on the Cake, by Elodia Strain this week. It is the complete opposite of The Historian, in the fact that it is a romantic comedy. I thought Elodia did a wonderful job with the main character who was so believable and funny. I laughed through the entire thing and even had my heartstrings touched with a subplot to the story which really brought out the skill of Elodia’s writing. She has a freshness about her style and I think she has a great career ahead of her. The Icing on the Cake is definitely a fun summer read, and I’m told there’s a sequel to it, which I am planning to check out.

My to-read list for the summer is long. My ten year old son and I have a book club in which I am finishing the fifth book in the Lightning Thief series by Rick Riordan, The Last Olympian, and we’re about to start The Shadow Children series. My nightstand has, The Hourglass Door, by Lisa Mangum on it, Recovering Charles, by Jason Wright, and Agent in Old Lace, by Tristi Pinkston. They all sound like great reads and I’ll have to let you know what I think.

What’s on your nightstand for your start to summer reading this year?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In Which I Risk Being Charged With Heresy

by Stephanie Black

Adverbs seem to be the sin du jour. If you hang around in writing circles, you’ve probably heard criticism leveled at adverbs or at books that use a lot of them. The thinking is that adding an adverb to a dialog tag is weak—that instead of the adverb, you need to strengthen the dialog, or clarify the emotion of the statement in some other way. That’s good as far as it goes, but I feel like the whole adverb thing is starting to seem a little witch-hunty. Adverbs! Bad! Destroy them all!

I don’t think we need to take it that far. Here’s my opinion (if you’re squeamish, you might want to look away):

Sometimes it’s okay to use adverbs to modify dialog tags.

For anyone out there who hasn’t fainted in horror, I’ll elaborate. In writing a novel, you want vivid, punchy prose. You want variety in constructions, variety in words, variety in sentence lengths. Words have music. And sometimes, if that adverb hits just the note you want, use it. The key is to use it deliberately, because it compliments the rhythm of your writing and says something important, not because your local dictionary had –ly words on sale ten for a dollar. Don’t use an adverb out of laziness. Use it when you conclude that it’s the best way to add punch, variety, or nuance to that particular tag.

Don’t use an adverb if it’s describing something the reader already understands. If a character is standing there, red-faced, with her hands on her hips, verbally ripping another character apart, you don’t need to point out that she’s speaking “angrily.” The reader will get it. Unnecessary adverbs need to get trimmed from your novel just like any other kind of wordy blubber.

In conclusion: if you're going to use an adverb, make sure it compliments the rhythm of your scene and that it adds something. Adverbs aren't automatically bad. Any form of speech can be used for good or evil. Used well and used sparingly, adverbs can be good.

That's all for today. I've got to get to work on that edit. And yeah, I just might have an adverb or two in there, she said gleefully.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Lord of the Marshalsea

by Robison Wells

I continue to be unemployed, which is every bit as awesome as advertised. Yesterday, in an effort to appease the bill collectors, I spent several hours at my brother's house doing yard work. And let me tell you, my MBA was quite beneficial to that endeavor. I implemented a weed-reduction program, which decreased the number of unwanted plants in the vegetable garden by 95%; I identified unwanted competition in the flower patch (grass), developed a push-back strategy (dug up the grass), and established barriers to entry which will ensure future maintenance of the flower patch's blue ocean (I put plastic edging between the lawn and the garden). And then my brother paid me two hundred and fifty million dollars, plus stock.

In addition to not having a job, I've decided to grow a beard. I've done this kind of thing on and off over the years, but my matriculation at BYU had made it somewhat difficult lately. My current plan is that I'll shave it off when I get a job interview. In other words: I'll soon look like Lorenzo Snow.

So after my gardening, during which I had blackened my jeans with dirt, I later found myself discussing my unemployed status with an elderly German lady. She, observing my filthiness and beard, sincerely and politely asked "Did you lose your job as a construction worker?"

Masterpiece Theater has recently been running a series of Charles Dickens adaptations, all of which seem to have characters who are in the depths of poverty but who eventually move to a life of prosperity. Consequently, I've decided that what I need is a benefactor. I imagine that he'll be named something like Mr. Picklepott. At the very least, maybe my enemies (the aforementioned bill collectors) will fall through the ice to their deaths, or spontaneously combust, or have their shiny office building collapse and kill them. And, if none of that works, I just finished watching Little Dorrit, and debtors prison didn't look all that bad.

The good news is that lately I've found a lot more time to write. I'm about 30,000 words into my book, which is much farther than I've gotten in a long time. And, since I'm writing this book in a state of utter and hopeless poverty, I'll have a really good story to tell Oprah when she interviews me about it. So, to all you employed jerks out there: stinks to be you.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Recession Buying

by Sariah S. Wilson

My youngest brother got his mission call last night. I said he was going Spanish-speaking, and guessed South America. My mom's been praying and praying for stateside, because she was horribly anxious the entire time one of my other brothers was in Russia (and got even more upset when he got home and found out how much he watered down his letters about the regular dangers he'd faced).

So he opened it and said he'd been the Utah Salt Lake City mission.

Cue everyone's open mouths and wide eyes.

Finally I said, "Are you serious?"

Not that there's anything wrong with being called to that mission, it's just that my brothers are definite pranksters and everyone in the room thought he was kidding. (To validate that claim - when he called one of my sisters in Utah and told her, her response was, "Really?" "Yes, really." "Really really? Because you don't sound like you're being serious about it." "Really really. I'm being serious.")

He announced that he would be Spanish-speaking (woo-hoo on me guessing right!). Everyone told him that it was the highest baptizing mission (seriously, everyone told him that. Every person he talked to on the phone at different times told him that).

We're wondering at this point whether or not he'll be staying in that mission though. His serious girlfriend lives in Ohio, but goes to school at BYU. My parents are planning on moving to Utah at the end of the summer to the Salt Lake area. Almost all of my entire maternal extended family already lives in SLC, as does one of my brothers and two of my sisters (with the rest to join them shortly when my parents move). One of my brothers who was bounced around to different mission areas (he was in Brazil, seriously hurt his back, came home to recover, got sent back out to Utah and then was put in Texas) got transferred from the Utah mission because his girlfriend lived in his area. So we'll see whether or not it ends up staying Salt Lake City.

(I do have to say that it was a very "Singles Ward" "I'm going to BOISE, IDAHO! WOO-HOO!" moment. Someone even asked him if he needed a map. LOL)

I'm thinking I asked this question before, but as I am too tired and/or too lazy to look back at my old posts, I'm wondering how the recession has affected your book-buying dollars.

I've found that for myself I've become very controlling over all of my money output. I'm not as good at it as I need to be, but I am really trying and hope to continue improving. Unfortunately, one of the things I've had to let up on is my expensive book habit.

My last book didn't do as well as anyone had hoped (not me, not the publisher, not my brother that I owe a lot of money to), and it didn't help matters to read the comments on Josi Kilpack's post on what LDS authors make on their royalty checks and apparently the only person not making more money than me is Rob Wells.

So rather than blame myself for not having enough writing talent, I have decided to blame the recession. I'm sure people want to buy my books but just can't afford them right now. That's okay - I know you'll be back in full force once things pick up again. Right?

How is your spending being affected these days? Experts always say that book sales actually go up as a cheaper and alternative form of entertainment, but I'm wondering whether or not that's true. Tell us whether or not things have changed for you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Wretched Journey

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I sat in Relief Society two weeks ago and they announced a mother/daughter hike for the new virtue value. Since my baby’s birth I haven’t done a lot of hiking, but the lady who announced it said it was an easy to medium hike and was only 5/8th of a mile. I thought to myself, I could do that, and it would be a fun thing to do with my daughter.

We awoke early on the Saturday morning of the hike (even though it had been a difficult night with the baby) and made it to the mouth of the canyon with the hundreds of other mothers and daughters from our stake. The lady at the front was yelling instructions, which were difficult to hear, but one sentence floated over the air to my stunned ears. “We’re going all the way to the top!”

My mind refused to process what she said because I’d been told it was a 5/8th of a mile hike and if we were going to the top of the mountains behind my house, well, that was a lot more than 5/8ths of a mile. But I followed the crowd and started up the mountain. And that’s when I realized the power of perception. What was an easy to medium hike for some people, was a difficult hike for me. There didn’t seem to be a trail, it was mostly just loose rocks that we were scrambling up, and the steepness of the grade made it all the more difficult to climb. After about a half a mile, my legs were in deep protest. I was huffing and puffing more than the big bad wolf and could have blown down a large house, I’m sure. My daughter was beside me and I was determined to have fun on this hike with her, but as I looked uphill, and saw that it only got steeper and harder, I knew I couldn’t do it. I tried to force my burning legs and lungs into submission, to keep going on the “trail,” but it was no use. I was going to have to turn back.

I didn’t want to turn back. I wanted to stay there with my daughter. And since we were near the front of the hikers, if I went back, I would have to face the hundreds of people in my stake who were still coming up while I was going down. I felt like a total failure. Mommyfail! I told my daughter how sorry I was, left her with her friends and young women leaders, and started back down the mountain.

As I passed ward and stake members, I got a lot of looks and a few comments. “Done already?” (wink wink) “Are you okay?” “Come on, I’m twice your age and I’m still going.” I just smiled weakly and tried to keep my footing because going down was easily as hard as going up on those loose rocks. I finally made it to the bottom, away from the rocks and all the people, and I let the tears come. I whipped myself with recriminations. Why would I think I could do that hike? And I felt humiliated by having to come down and pass the entire stake on the way, so everyone knew that I couldn’t do it.

I think the writing journey can be likened to my hiking experience. For some, the journey is an easy thing, and they excitedly tell you that anyone can write and be published. Yet, when you start on your journey, you find it difficult and full of loose rocks that discourage you and at every turn seem to try and trip you up and make you fall. You want to be there on this journey, you really want to do it, but perhaps you need more preparation to get yourself properly ready for what’s before you. Maybe you have to start over or step back a ways, and admitting this to yourself can be just as difficult as starting the journey in the first place.

The hardest thing for me after I left my daughter was the comments of others as I came down. But writers who are on a journey to be published have to endure all sorts of comments and are counseled to get a thick skin. For me, I have a hard time with criticism. I will remember the one bad review I got and easily forget the ten good reviews. I came home from that hike feeling like a loser and just then, my dad called. I told him what had happened and he was quiet for a moment, then he said, “Julie, let me get this straight. You are the mother of seven children, which is busy and a huge responsibility since one of them is a small baby. You are in the middle of rush time grading and teaching at BYU, and finishing edits on a book, so pretty much, you're exhausted. And just for fun, on your Saturday, you’re climbing up a mountain.” I said yes and he chuckled. “You must be a Coulter,” he said. “We think we can do everything and anything and it’s such a shock when we find out that we can’t.”

His words did make me feel better, but I resolved not to let that hike be my last memory of hiking. I’m going to prepare better and do it again. It might not be in the near future, but I know I will do it. And I think any writer worth their salt would have to think in those same sort of terms. If you are rejected, let yourself feel the pain and/or sadness, then try again. The wretched journey can become a joyous one if you don’t give up. I truly believe that. You may have to endure the feelings of failure, the comments of others or maybe your own inner comments that say you can’t do it, and you’re a failure, but only you know the strength within, and can listen to the part of you that says, “I’m not going to let that rejection be my last memory on my publishing journey. I’m going to prepare better and try again. It might not be in the near future, but I know I will do it. I will get to the top of that mountain.”

And then make that statement true. Try again. Do it. It’s not going to be easy, but people who don’t give up get published, and there are those who will encourage you along the way. Listen to them, build up your skills, then turn the wretched journey into a memorable journey, one that will bring you closer to your writing goals.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Madness in My Methods

by Stephanie Black

I received the edit for Methods of Madness yesterday. It’s both exciting and scary to get to this point in the process—exciting because, wow, it’s almost time for the book to go to press! Scary because, wow, it’s almost time for the book to go to press! We’re getting close to the point where the words on the page will be set in stone—well, typeset in ink, anyway. No more revising. What’s done is done. For someone who loves revision as much as I do, it can be hard to let go of a manuscript. No more tinkering. Put the manuscript down, back away slowly, and no one gets hurt.

Releasing a new book is a huge thrill—and along with that thrill comes a new dose of worry. I’ve discovered that with each new book, though the nature of the anxiety changes slightly, it’s still there. With my first book, I had no track record. Readers had no preconceived ideas or expectations when they picked up The Believer (beyond expectations generated by reviews or personal recommendations). To my delight, people enjoyed the book. So with my second book, I worried about living up to the first book. Would the people who loved The Believer love Fool Me Twice? Fool Me Twice was a very different kind of story, and I worried about disappointing some of my fans. To my relief, FMT was very well received. And now, especially following up on the Whitney Awards, I worry about Methods of Madness living up to FMT. What if someone says, “Well, I really liked her other books, but her new one is kind of a letdown”? Do other authors worry like this? Do they worry even if they’ve published thirty books or made a gazillion dollars? Probably. I think it's just part of being an author.

Author anxieties come out in funny ways. I had a dream last week that an author friend and I were riding in a car (I won’t name her—she might read this blog and then she’ll know my subconscious snatched her and stuck her in my warped dream). She told me something along the lines of Dumbledore had said my work wasn’t as good anymore. I was horrified. Was Dumbledore joking or serious, I wanted to know. Serious, she told me. I was in this absolute daze of horror. Dumbledore thought I’d gone downhill!

Yeah, it’s official: I’ve cracked up.

Anyway, I’d better get to work on that edit. And if you don't like my new book, just use that technique where you hunt for one little thing to compliment and make a big deal out of it, like, "Wowsers, how about that kissing in chapter one?"

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Busted Ankles and the Deerly Departed

by Sariah S. Wilson

Life was way interesting this week.

First, we welcomed two nieces - Charly and Emma. They're not twins, just two babies who arrived within a week of each other from both sides of our family.

Second, I sprained my ankle again. It is the same ankle I sprained last time. It is also the same ankle I had my first female heroine sprain in my first book. (In hindsight, I probably should have made her win a million dollars. I'd much rather have had that happen twice than spraining my ankle. Yes, it takes place in the Book of Mormon, but I would have figured out a way to make the million dollar thing work.) On the bright side, I did a spectacular job of it. I was walking down the stairs, while carrying my new baby (who, by the way, has gained 50 percent of his birth weight in two months. He's 15 pounds now and has grown four inches since birth). Somehow I slipped on a step, and began to fall. My instinct was to fall backwards to protect the baby, and my foot stayed caught underneath me, taking the brunt of my fall.

I worried that I might have broken it, but the X-rays were normal (except for the highly inflammed tissue). I have all these red spots on my ankle where blood vessels burst right below the skin, and a bruise that turned from purplish-blue to yellowish-green and every shade in between. It's like what I imagine might happen if Rainbow Brite were a vampire and bit you.

I'm wearing an air cast and taking anti-inflammatory meds. This is even funnier given the fact that the baby is a big fan of being held only while standing up. (How do babies know this? How can they tell the difference? Do they have some sort of internal altimeter that lets them know exactly how far they are from the ground?)

But before I took my glorious spill, I was taking my two youngest to the doctor for the baby's two-month check-up. (Yes, I can hear you now. Two months? He's already two months old? How has time gone by so fast? I can only tell you that time has not gone by fast here. We've been on Stake Conference Standard Time in the Wilson household - where two hours feels like ten.)

Anyway, I was driving along on the freeway headed to the doctor. I was in the middle lane of a three-lane highway. I noticed the semi in the far right lane suddenly slow down. I had only a second to wonder why he was doing that when off to my left I saw a deer run in front of the car in the left/high speed lane. She missed the car on the left, but ran directly into the car right in front of me. I didn't hear anything, but the deer smacked into the car and literally flew up at least six feet in the air, turning and spinning as she traveled the length of the car and headed toward me.

It was only a second or two, but I couldn't believe how fast my mind was working and everything I was able to think while all this was happening. It was sort of like that one Star Trek movie where Picard meets that race that can slow down time so that you can enjoy a moment in slow motion (I don't remember what else happened in that movie. Probably there was some sort of intergalactic conflict that only the Enterprise could stop).

I also credit my video game training as my first thought was that I couldn't let the deer hit me. I was boxed in on the right - the semi was still in that lane - and didn't have time to check my left. I'd have to figure out how to maneuver around the deer once it landed. I worried that I wouldn't be able to move in time - that my physical reaction would not be as fast as my mental one. I tried to calculate exactly where he would land and planned how to get around him.

But at the last possible moment, the deer somehow suddenly veered to the left and landed on the ground in that lane. I saw her GET UP. I can't imagine how that was even possible - I thought for sure bones would have been broken in hitting that car. The deer ran into the grassy median, headed toward the opposite side of the freeway.

I was so blessed not to have had the deer hit my car or land right in front of me. I'm fortunate that the car in front of me didn't slam his brakes on (as I wondered if had it been me, whether I would have done that) because I would have crashed into him. (I saw the car exiting the freeway at the next ramp, and the front end of his car was all smashed in.) It took a good 10 minutes or so for my heart to stop beating so fast.

All I can say is that it didn't feel like reality. It felt like something out of a movie, like the scene in "Twister" where the cow flies up to the camera. It was horrible, and I hope to never see/participate in something like that ever again.

Here's to hoping this week is a lot more uninteresting.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Moroni Had a Mother

by Kerry Blair

Moroni had a mother. Mormon had a mother. Despite the stripling warriors getting all the credit for a superior education, Helaman too had a mother.

I’ve thought a lot about these women over the past several years. I’ve tried to imagine how Moroni’s mother felt when he whipped out that Title of Liberty, prepared to take on Amalickiah—and all the hosts of hell, if need be. There was a time I would have guessed that her heart filled with righteous pride, but now I know better. Most likely, she smiled when Moroni came home on leave, but the minute he returned to the front lines she cried, Why you? There are men everywhere! Why don’t they go? Why can’t you till the earth, tend the flocks, preach the gospel . . . weave baskets . . . do anything but risk your heart and soul in battle?

I think it’s even harder to send a son off to war in this dispensation. After all, the Nephites knew their sons were fighting for their lives. As Americans and Latter-day Saints, we support our government and cherish our freedom, but we prefer to do it from a safe distance. “Good” little Mormon boys are not groomed for the military. Primary and Mutual are designed to prepare our kids for marriage, college, and missions—not boot camp. Think about it. Who hopes to be called on the kind of mission where they’ll carry a gun with their Book of Mormon? It is not surprising then that when a bright, active LDS kid from a good family turns nineteen and enters not the MTC but the USMC, nobody knows what to say. Nobody knows what to think. This, of course, includes the guy’s mother.

Even living in one of the most supportive wards in the Church doesn’t help as much as you’d think it would. While not a single week passes without a public prayer offered for the men and women in the military, it is done at the request of the bishop—who means it—and uttered by rote by people who mostly do not. My husband and I are often asked for an account of our sons’ well-being, but the people who ask often do so in low voices, as if it shames us to have sons in the service “instead” of serving the Lord. (The Lord Himself does not consider the two mutually exclusive.) Indisputably, a young person’s willingness to live or die for his country is not as admirable in our culture as it is curious. Unfortunately, the way some people react to it is even curious-er. Another of my favorite examples: since his enlistment, my youngest son has received a monthly ward letter that is always addressed Dear Elders (and Matt). That Matt is also an elder never occurred to its author; perhaps because his name badge was of the desert-camouflage variety.

This is not meant as criticism. I don’t know what to make of those boys of mine, either. The only thing that surprised me more than my youngest son’s determination to become a Marine was my eldest son’s enlistment in the Army after a two-year mission for the Church. I swear we used the same Family Home Evening manual and attended the same meetings as the rest of you. Curious and curious-er, say Alice and I. Sure, I’ve always believed that a well-trained, well-equipped, all-volunteer military must be maintained to ensure the rest of us continuing our lives, liberties, and pursuits of happiness, but I also assumed somebody else’s kids would take the job.

Even though it didn’t work out that way, I am here to report that it is all behind us now—as of this very morning, in fact. After half a decade of viewing life through an olive-drab looking-glass, we have returned to the somewhat less-surreal world of civilians. My youngest returned from Okinawa a few weeks ago, and my eldest left White Sands last night. They will both be home for Mother’s Day. They are alive. Healthy. Whole. As holy as they ever were—which is pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.

I can’t contain the gratitude that fills my heart, but I know that when I have my children all together for the first time in years, not every tear I shed will be for joy. I will never be able to forget other women who are not so blessed. As I celebrate Mothers Day, other mothers all over the country (world) will wait by the phone for their children to report in from life-missions foreign, domestic, religious, and military. Some military moms will not hear a loved one’s voice because their sons are too deep within Iraq, Afghanistan, or South America to reach a phone. These women are blessed, and they know it. (The phrase “no news is good news” was coined in time of war.) They recognize their good fortune because every one of them knows of a mother who will spend her special day at the bedside of a hurt or maimed child. Even these latter count themselves fortunate because what mother in our country does not know of another whose beloved never came home at all?

God bless us, every one.

Moroni was a man who did not delight in bloodshed but whose soul did joy in the freedom of his country. He pledged his life to the welfare of his people because his heart swelled with thanksgiving to God for the privileges and blessings bestowed upon them. No doubt his mother’s heart was also swollen with many emotions; surely she carried equal parts fear and longing side-by-side with hope and faith. Moroni was not young when he left the service, but I like to imagine that his mother reached an exceedingly old age. (If I were even half as talented as David or Heather, I would write a book to make it so, if only in fiction.) I truly hope she lived long enough to see her beloved son retire to his own house to spend the remainder of his days in peace.

My sons’ service was not as remarkable as Moroni’s, but the remainder of their days are hopefully much, much longer. (I expect more prayerful preparation, leadership, and service from them both.) In the meantime, they have dedicated a portion of their youth to serving their country while remaining true to their God. I appreciate and admire them for that. How well I remember the Family Home Evening we hung a brass “Return with Honor” sign on our front door and discussed its meaning. My sons did not go where I thought they would go, or do what I thought they would do, but I know beyond doubt they served well, magnified their priesthood, and righteously impacted countless lives. I know I am blessed beyond measure to see them return safely home . . . and with honor.

Not even Moroni’s mother would ask for anything more.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Odd Day

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Today is Odd Day. 05/07/09 is three consecutive odd numbers and today is one of only six times that will happen this century. Which means it’s perfect for a writing blog, since most writers are considered odd.

I think writers got that reputation from famous authors who did odd things.

Like Emily Dickinson never leaving her house and not wanting anyone to see her handwriting. Ever. Another rumored quirk of Emily Dickinson is that she supposedly always wore white. Yet, in the picture below of her . . . yeah.

I always liked the story of how Emily never left her house, but lowered down baskets of cookies to the neighborhood kids. Way to get in with them! "No, mom, Miss Dickinson isn't that weird. She gives us cookies!" And how when Emily was ill, she wouldn't let the doctor examine her, but she walked back and forth across the doorway while the doctor watched so he could diagnose her. I would have loved to hear that conversation. "Okay, ready? I'm going to walk by the door again, doctor. See if you can guess what I have."

Or there's Charles Dickens who put his bed in a north/south position and made sure everything on his desk was in a certain position each day. He also had two pet ravens and named both of them Grip.

Seriously? A creative genius like Dickens can't think of two separate names for his pets? Maybe he only had time to think of one name, I guess. But, yeah. I found that odd.

Henry David Thoreau talked to forest animals. (Maybe Rob should try that to help with his plotting problem.)

Don't you think Thoreau looks a little odd? I can totally see him talking to forest animals when I look at that picture, you know? I wonder if he brought pet frogs and such to school to talk to and the kids teased him. If he lived nowadays, I bet he would have gotten an reality TV series as the first "Animal Whisperer/Author." I wonder who the best forest conversationalist was.

But do you see what I mean about the oddness factor in writers, though? I know authors who have to eat an apple before they can begin writing for the day, or have a lucky writing shirt that they do their best work in, or lucky writing socks that must be put on right foot first, then left foot, or the house must be completely clean before they can write. I tried hard to think of a writing quirk of my own, but since I couldn't think of one, maybe that's the odd part. A writer with no quirks! Or, that's the reason I'm not a famous author. Perhaps, I should never leave my house, name all my pets the same name, and start talking to forest animals, (some deer came down and ate all the tulips in my front flower garden last night. Maybe I could talk to them about that.) It's something to think about, at least.

So, in honor of odd day and the fact that you're reading this blog, tell me what writer’s quirks you’ve heard of or what odd thing do you do every day before you begin writing.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Toes. Also, an Awesome Mystery Novel

by Stephanie Black

In Rob’s blog yesterday, he asked for fresh ideas for how to plot a novel or—this is a direct quote—“a kick in the butt.” I’d love to oblige him in the latter request, and will file it away for the next time I see him, along with a note to borrow my daughter’s heavy cop boots. If you’re going to land a good kick to the patoot, you might as well do it right, but truth is, I have no doubt that by the time I see him, Rob will be back in the swing of plotting and writing another incredible novel and won’t need the motivation. Not that there wouldn’t be plenty of other reasons to kick a smart-mouthed-Mafia-Wars-addicted-MBA punk.

Speaking of heavy-duty foot protection, I could have used some the other day. There I was, walking to the park with my preschooler daughter and a friend and her daughter. It was a cheery sort of sunny day, and I was wearing sandals. Upon crossing the street, I sort of miscalculated—wasn’t paying attention well enough, apparently—and wham! I slammed my big toe into the concrete curb. This involved a certain degree of pain and blood, though, for the record, I didn’t swear. Truly, you have no idea how much force you put into taking a normal step until some obstacle gets in your way. I thought I might have broken the toe, but by the next day it was feeling much less sore. Now it’s just—never mind, I won’t describe it on a family blog, because it’s a little icky. The moral to the story is watch where you’re going. Or wear boots.

Speaking of toe injuries, you know how when your feet are cold—somehow it hurts worse when they’re cold—and you splinch your toes on the leg of a chair? I hate that. Then there was the time when I was squeezing my way past my family seated on the pew at church, and I inadvertently stepped on my teenage daughter’s foot with the wooden heel of my shoe and really ground it in (not maliciously, of course. Honest.) It was in the middle of the meeting and she didn’t want to scream, so she just had to sit there with her eyeballs bulging out of her head. No wonder she’s so fond of those heavy boots now.

Okay, sorry. I’ll stop telling injured foot stories. Instead I’ll tell you that I just read Josi Kilpack’s new mystery novel, Lemon Tart, and it was awesome. When Sadie Hoffmiller’s neighbor, Anne Lemmon, is found murdered, Sadie is determined to figure out who killed her. The police want her to keep her nose out of the investigation, but feisty Sadie can't bring herself to just sit back--not when she's a suspect herself, and not when people she cares about might very well be involved in the crime. Josi Kilpack has crafted a wonderfully intricate mystery, filled with twists and turns. I’ll be really impressed if someone tells me they figured out the villain before he/she was revealed, because I sure didn’t. If you haven't had a chance to read Lemon Tart, grab a copy at the first opportunity.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A Cry For Help

by Robison Wells

As you may have heard, I graduated with my MBA last week. Here's a picture of me in my robes and such.

And here is me wearing the hood. You're not actually supposed to wear the hood, because it makes you look like a warlock from a B movie.

Anyway, I am still on the job hunt, and if you know of any good jobs, marketing or general management, shoot them my way. (However: I'm not interested in your MLM.)

So, my days of late have been spent looking for jobs and pounding the pavement and writing cover letters and a whole lot of other unpleasantness. The nice aspect of unemployment is that I've had some more time to write. And I've discovered something: I've forgotten how to write a book.

My last book came out in 2006, which means that I finished writing it in 2005. During school, I told my publisher that I was going to take a two-year hiatus to focus on studying. So, now it's been four years since I actually typed "The End" on the last page of something, and I'm dying.

I can still write, I guess. My chapters aren't terrible. But I can't plot. I can't get the character arcs right. The past two years have been filled with writing academic non-fiction, with the longest paper being somewhere around thirty pages. That's a far cry from a novel.

Yesterday I went over to my brother's office and we brainstormed my current book, because for the life of me I couldn't get an ending. After three hours of brainstorming, we came to the realization: I have no idea what I want to write. I'm plugging away on an idea that I got four years ago, but for want of something better it's gone through a dozen different incarnations. Sometimes the scale is small, sometime's it's world-wide. Sometimes it's first-person, sometimes it's third. Sometimes the main character is a boy, sometimes it's a girl. The moral of the story: I have no idea what I want to write.

So, to all you writers out there, leave a comment and explain how you plot a book. Yes, this is something I already know, but I need some fresh ideas. (Or a kick in the butt. One or the other.)

Friday, May 01, 2009

Mother Goose Day

by Kerry Blair

I'd planned to continue this week's theme by blogging about the conference and the Whitney awards. In fact, I lay awake half the night thinking about what to write and how best to put it. But on my way to the computer this morning I flipped over the calendar page, stopped, and stared. Today is May 1! It's a red letter day; one of the best holidays of the whole year. Today is, boys and girls, children of all ages, Mother Goose Day!
I ask you, how in good conscience can I let such an auspicious occasion pass without comment? Now I'll answer that question myself: I simply can't.

Although the "holiday" itself isn't even a quarter-century old, and was originally tied to a marketing gimmick for a book, the date was based on folklore from the mid 17th century. (Meaning this quaint custom was in in vogue when the first Mother Goose rhymes began to circulate.) Many of my goose-owning, Goose-quoting ancestors must have believed that a wish made on a goose on May Day (May 1) would certainly come true.

Today is May Day, and who are we to argue with wisdom of the ages? If you have a wish that needs granting (don't we all?) the first thing you have to do is find a goose. (I have two, if that helps.) Then, while looking said fowl in the eye, call out loudly: Mother Goose, Mother Goose, go and set my good wish loose! If the goose runs away, your wish will come true.

Oh, wait! You'd better not try it with my geese. They were raised in our family room from the time they were a day old. (Yes, really. Doesn't everybody keep poultry in the house?) Subsequently, even though we relocated the goslings to the poultry barn about the time they reached my height, they've never met a person they don't love. It's much more likely that Simba and Nala (African geese, don't you know) will follow you home than it is they'll run away with your wishes. I suggest you try your luck with a park or lake goose instead.

But back to Mother Goose Day 2009. A little errata: There may or may not have been a "real" Mother Goose. There was a "Mother Goose" buried in London at the right time period, but there is also a Boston woman who claimed the honor. (That her son published books of Mother Goose rhymes makes that latter lady a little suspicious to me.) There is little argument that regardless of whence they originated, the stories and ditties passed through the ages were penned by many authors, some of them famous enough to surprise you. (Okay. Maybe not you, but me for sure.) The only thing that surprises me more is that after almost 500 years of sharing a charming cultural phenomena, these stories and rhymes are in danger of disappearing within a generation or two.
When I wrote "surprised" I meant "dismayed."

Case in point: a couple days ago at Cubs I watched a boy stick his thumb into a cup of dutch oven cobbler and then lick the gooey treat off his finger. Smiling, I said, "Little Jack Horner sat in a corner."

He said, "We're outside. And my name is Tyler."

I said, "Uh, huh. I was quoting a nursery rhyme."
He said, "What's a nursery rhyme?"

I said, "You know, Mother Goose."

Tyler clearly didn't know Mother Goose. (But ask him about Pokemon or Transformers and then try to shut him up.) This disturbing exchange led to an impromptu survey right on the spot. Of the dozen boys gathered around the dutch oven, only two could recite a rhyme associated with Mother Goose. Two more were familiar with Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, but while it was admirable, I just couldn't count it. All the rest of those kids had presumably grown up (with "grown up" being a relative term for 8 to 10-year-olds) with wild things and hungry caterpillars, but no Mother Goose.

See why it's so important we latter-day parents, grandparents, and authors support this day for all we're worth?

The preface to The Only True Mother Goose Melodies (1843) is illustrated by a beak-nosed woman and two young children. It reads:
Hear What Ma'am Goose Says!

My dear little blossoms, there are now in this world, and always will be, a great many grannies besides myself, both in petticoats and pantaloons, some a deal younger to be sure; but all monstrous wise, and of my own family name. These old women, who never had a chick nor child of their own, but who always know how to bring up other people's children, will tell you with very long faces, that my enchanting, quieting, soothing volume, my all-sufficient anodyne for cross, peevish, won't-be-comforted little bairns, ought to be laid aside for more learned books, such as they could select and publish. Fudge! I tell you that all their banterings can't deface my beauties, nor their wise pratings equal my wiser prattlings; and all imitators of my refreshing songs might as well write a new Billy Shakespeare as another Mother Goose; we two great poets were born together, and we shall go out of the world together. No, no, my Melodies will never die, While nurses sing or babies cry.

They won't if I have anything to say about it. Quick! Tell me what you best remember about Mother Goose! (And drop by on Sunday -- our "off day" -- for my thoughts on the Whitneys!)