Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Great Mormon Novels Have Already Been Written (by Spencer McKay)

Dear readers,
You've no doubt noticed that Rob has been mysteriously absent the past few weeks. Our humblest apologies. He's been hiking the Appalachian Trail. Rob's close friend, author Spencer McKay, will be filling in during the absence.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the possibility of the Great Mormon Novel. Even on this very blog, people have been yammering on about the various issues at play. Some say that such a book is inevitable--that as the quality and acceptance of LDS fiction increases, we will eventually see the creation of a work of such astounding depth, importance and beauty that all will point to it as the pinnacle of the Mormon experience; it will be both the culmination of all Mormon thought up to that point as well as the catalyst for future growth and change.

On the other end of the spectrum, some say that such a book is impossible, that as soon as an artist truly plumbs the depths of the LDS experience, the artist will disappear in a puff of depth-plumbing smoke. Likewise, some say that the market is too insular and small--that a "great" Mormon novel can't happen because, by definition, a lot of people would have to read it and right now, few people read LDS books.

To all of those claims, I say: phooey. Why? Because I've already written the Great Mormon Novel. In fact, I've written three of them. Take your pick. (And this doesn't even include my previous work, such as Enriched by Love, The Friberg Code, The Ineffectual Education Fund, or my screenplay for The Nephite Who Loved Me.) No, all of the following books are completely new, ground-breaking, and destined for the heights of history.

Great Mormon Novel #1

Title: Ms. Gumshoe

Premise: Olivia Beautifula starts her own private investigation agency, only to find that no clients want to work with a gorgeous, Mensa-member, former-cop--who also happens to be a woman! So she makes up the name of a fake male boss, someone who her clients can respect: Winchester Ironn. Business picks up and all is well--until someone shows up claiming to be Winchester!

Can Olivia get to the bottom of these mysteries--both her case (finding a jewel thief) and the problem of her mysterious boss--without having her heart stolen as well? (Also: she's the Primary President and the annual Primary program is coming up! Will little Timmy Johnson not pick his nose on the stand!?)

Why it's the Great Mormon Novel: For one thing, it's authentic. That's what the Great Mormon Novel really needs: someone who is willing to tell a real story, accurately and without pulling any punches. More than any book that's come previously, this one lays bare the all-too-common experiences of a hot detective Primary president who has a mysterious boss.

Great Mormon Novel #2

Title: Missing You While I'm Home and You're At War Fighting the Indonesians

Premise: Sure, we all know about the Attack on Quallah Battoo in February of 1832. But do we know what it was like on the homefront? And what if one of the soldiers who stormed the tiny town in Indonesia also happened to have joined the church two years before!? What then?

This book is groundbreaking, both for Mormons and for lovers of literary experimentation. It tells four stories all at once: first, Melinda Quincy, who was married and joined the church only three days before her husband was called off to fight. Second, it tells of her husband, Steve Quincy, laying out the gritty tale of war and pain in Quallah Battoo. Third, we see a parrallel with the efforts of Steve's brother Bruce, who's fighting a battle of his own--a mission in Rio. Fourth and finally, in a different timeline we follow Amnigaddah, the Jaredite, who also did stuff.

Why it's the Great Mormon Novel: Well, this one seems pretty obvious. It has it all: war, homefrontery, missions, Jarediting.

Great Mormon Novel #3:

Title: Incantation Inn and the Bellhop of Destiny

Premise: You've heard about wizards going to high school, and you've probably even heard about superheros and vampires going to high school. The combination of the supernatural and the ordinary is common fodder for the arts. I mean, one the greatest books of all time combines a hunchback, three talking gargoyles, and a cathedral (The Great Gatsby). But have you ever heard of a wizard who runs a hotel!?!?

Dark Lord Kortivupy is general manager at Hotel du Magic (it's French). He runs a tight ship--no nonsense--but what happens when his small-town hotel gets picked as the location for MTV's Spring Break!?

Why it's the Great Mormon Novel: To the layman, this book probably doesn't sound very Mormon. But to those stupid layman, let me just say one word: symbolism. The scene where Kortivupy is knocked into the swimming pool by rowdy frat boys, and emerges from the water with soaked robes and a changed heart? Don't tell me that's not Pulitzer Prize material. And when Kortivupy sends his housekeeping staff two-by-two to spread the news that the swimming pool has been contaminated with diesel fuel? I mean, come on.

You can follow Rob on Twitter if you do that kind of thing.

You can even add Spencer McKay as a friend on Facebook. He likes friends.

Everybody Wins!

Wow, great comments on crossing the line. It definitely gave me a lot to think about. In appreciation, everyone who commented on the post last week gets their choice of reading either the new Shandra manuscript or the new Farworld manuscript (but not both. Don't be greedy!) The only rule is that you can't send the manuscript to anyone else. It is for your eyes only. Read it and delete it. Okay? Okay.
Also, Land Keep is available right now, but you will need to wait a few weeks for Shandra edits.
Email me at jsavage at jeffreysavage dot com and let me know which one you would like.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fun Kid Carnival/Party Games

by Sariah S. Wilson

Recently my husband's company threw a company picnic. It was a beautiful location where they had rented out an air-conditioned lodge (thankfully, because it was 5000 degrees outside with a million percent humidity). They served all kinds of yummy food, and then after the meal had kids' games planned.

The games were set up behind the lodge, where there was only one path in and out (good way to keep an eye on everyone). They had a moonbounce (expensive) which the kids loved, but then they had these very inexpensive type games that the kids all really enjoyed.

Our ward tends to do carnival type activities and oftentimes they seem to have a hard time coming up with ideas of things to do, so as I imagined other people might be in similar circumstances, I thought I would share.

The first was a ring toss. They took a lot of two liter soda bottles, filled them up with sand in the bottom and decorated the outside with logos from different pro football teams. The rings were just toy rings you could get at any store.

They had a bean bag toss. They had made an initial investment of a toy where you could toss the bean bag in to (it had Elmo on it), but then every year after that you have a game that doesn't cost anything. They awarded levels of prizes based on how many/which hole you got your bean bag in.

The third, and my daughter's absolute favorite, was they took a big round toy bucket with rope handles (my mom used to have tons of these for her daycare) and filled it up with sand. They buried cheap plastic animal toys. When you dug up a toy, you got a prize. If you found a frog you got a big prize. The two-year-old found a frog and didn't care. She just wanted to kneel there and keep digging in the sand. (We made her stop when she threw sand in another little girl's hair.)

Then they had your typical Tootsie Roll sucker game where you pull a sucker out and if your sucker has color on the bottom you win. Even if you don't get a prize you still get a sucker.

They set up a baby wading pool, put water in it and put in a bunch of rubber ducks. Each of the ducks had a different symbol (heart, star, smiley face) on the bottom and you had to find five of a kind to win a prize. Again, another game we had to drag the two-year-old away from.

The last game that they had set up they took another one of those large, circular, rope handle bins and filled it with water. They attached candy dishes to floating discs and then the kids had to throw ping-pong balls into the dishes. If they got it in, they won a prize.

The company had other games like a water balloon toss and cornhole (which is a really big deal here in Ohio and Kentucky) and even a dunk tank where you could pay to get upper management all wet.

There were also some door prizes, which I convinced my husband to enter because I always think those are fun. They're even more fun when you win, which we did! But we didn't find out until the next week because we left before the drawing (everybody was too hot and tired at that point to keep functioning). We won passes to Dollywood and Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I hear that's a fun place to visit, and it's only about a five-hour drive from here, so we're going to try and go this fall (it would be our second ever family vacation).

Do you have ideas for inexpensive, easy and fun carnival or party games?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Timing is Everything

My first book was accepted for publication on my first try. Or was it? It was definitely my first submission, but I’m not sure the end result was my first book.

Home Run was my primary effort at fiction-other-than-roadshows. It was a story about conversion and spring training in the Cactus League – two things I figured I knew quite a bit about. Since I had three teenage sons and taught sixteen-year-olds in Sunday School, I wrote it with them in mind. I mailed it to Utah in a moment when I was out of my mind. Then I checked “write a novel” off my List-of-Things-To-Do-Before-I-Die and moved and on.

A few weeks later I was on the playground at the elementary school setting up carnival booths when one of my kids appeared, having just remembered a phone message he’d taken the day before. “By the way,” he said as I dropped rubber ducks into a wading pool, “somebody from somewhere called. She said they want to publish your book.”

I couldn’t quite process his words.

“Can I go buy tickets now?” he asked. Wordlessly, I turned over cash and he added, “Did you write a book?”

“What do you think I’ve been doing at the computer for the last six months?”

He shrugged. “Grandpa said you were having a midlife crisis.”

Grandpa was probably right.

The woman who called was Valerie Holladay from Covenant Communications. She couldn’t have been nicer. I was over-the-moon happy, telling everybody who would listen that I would soon be a published author.

About a week later, the official acceptance letter arrived. Included were three additional typewritten pages. (10 pt. Single spaced.) If it was titled at all, I’m sure it said something professional like “Suggested Revisions,” but I will always and forever think of it as the “612 Things We Really Hate About Your Novel” letter.

First I hyperventilated. Then my eyes leaked a little, probably from lack of oxygen. At last I picked up the phone and called Valerie. “Never mind,” I told her. “I’m not really a writer and I don’t want to publish a book.”

Apparently, nobody had ever called to tell her that. She sputtered a little then we hung up. A few minutes later, she called me back.

To avoid making a short story even longer, Val talked me down from the ledge. Somehow, my book for young men metamorphosed into The Heart Has Its Reasons, a romance – in a pink cover, no less. (As someone who had never even read a romance -- aside from Romeo & Juliet, Pride & Prejudice, and Wuthering Heights -- I didn’t die of mortification, I just thought I might.) Maybe I can tell you the whole story sometime, but what really matters today is that over the years this incredible editor/mentor became one of the best friends I will ever have in this life or all of eternity.

This is, obviously, a very (very) long way to introduce my guest blogger, Valerie Holladay. (Please note: this is essentially a two-for-the-price-of-one blog. Does that make up for whiffing it last week?) Val is a writer, editor, and educator extraordinaire. Formerly at Covenant Communications, she teaches editing at the college level, works tireless in the Association of Mormon Letters, and has served as editor of Irreantum. She blogs at V-Formation from which this blog came. It is used with her permission.

Timing is Everything
by Valerie Holladay

In teaching my editing class, I always like to pass along stories about how books are accepted, and how they get skipped over until some editor finally "connects" with the book. One amazing story is "The Confederacy of Dunces," a book that was rejected by all the major publishers over a period of several years. After the author committed suicide, his mother continued to submit his manuscript and finally prevailed upon author Percy Walker to read it. Walker used his influence to get the book published. The book won the Pulitzer but that's not even the end of the story. When 100 prominent writers were asked to name the single best work of American fiction in the last 25 years, this was the book they named.

The story I personally love is from Lillian Jackson Braun, author of The Cat Who books. Her first short story about her cat was published in Ellergy Queen's mystery magazine and made the "Best Detective Stories of the Year." After she was asked to write several more, a publisher asked if she'd like to try writing a novel with a cat, so she wrote The Cat Who Could Read Backwards and then the publisher asked for another and then another.But then...there's a gap between book number three and four--a gap of 18 years.

As Braun explains, "By the time I had written the fourth one, tastes in mysteries had changed, the management had changed, the policy had changed. They wanted sex and violence, not kitty-cat stories. [Note: This was the late '60s, the era of Jacqueline Susann and Harold Robbins.] Sex and violence were not my style, so I just forgot all about The Cat Who. I had a full-time job on a newspaper and it was exciting and I had a wonderful life, so who needed it?"

During those years, her husband died and she remarried. One rainy day she gave her manuscript for book #4 to her second husband, and when he read it, he said, "I think its time has come. There are fifty-six million cats in the United States and I think you should resubmit it." So she did and now twenty-something years later she's on book #30.

The idea that an author may have to wait eighteen years may not be terribly comforting, but to me the point is more that we can't know the future and there may be some wonderful things ahead. We just don't see it now. But what we do now helps us be ready for it--whether it's writing a book or enjoying whatever we're doing because life is full of changes and we may be doing something else at any point that we didn't anticipate.

You just may be surprised.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Great Mormon Novel--Can It Be Written?

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I was reading a blog on the Mormon Times recently about how, in the blogger’s opinion, there can never be a Great Mormon novel because there isn’t enough wiggle room in the Mormon religion and gray areas to be explored. He felt like the Mormon religion demanded so much of its members that a true Mormon surrendered their “egos, ideas, and ambition,” to promoting the faith. And so, if you want to promote the faith, you can’t write the Great Mormon novel, and without the blessing of the church, it wouldn’t be a true Mormon novel, anyway, so we’re stuck more or less.

I’ve thought about this a lot and I wondered, first of all, do we need a great Mormon novel? Apparently one of the criteria of a great Mormon novel is to delve into gray areas that wouldn’t promote the faith. Why would anyone want to do that and call it a great Mormon novel? And, honestly, do people really think that authors who consider themselves “true Mormons” surrender their ego, ideas and ambitions to promote the faith in their writing? I know plenty of authors with healthy egos and just as many authors with incredible ideas that have nothing to do with Mormonism and yet, they are still good Mormons. Promoting the faith isn’t all there is to Mormon authors and I don’t believe that being a good Mormon would hinder any author from writing the great Mormon novel

One sentence in the blog stood out to me and made me wonder a little more. “In the future, I’m sure LDS writers will produce wonderful novels.” Hmmm…that makes it sound to me like this blogger doesn’t read LDS works currently. (Or else he hasn’t liked anything he’s read.) I don’t know if he does read what’s out there now, but that one sentence stuck out to me. He is making judgments with his opinion of whether or not the great Mormon novel could be written by LDS authors in good standing, and yet, he feels that wonderful novels by LDS writers are something for the future. Frankly, I think LDS writers have produced some wonderful novels and they just keep getting better and better. LDS fiction has improved by leaps and bounds, but mainly I’ve noticed so many LDS writers doing national work and doing an incredible job. If there is to be a great Mormon novel, there is no doubt in my mind that we have the talent for it among us. I guess it comes down to someone wanting to write it. Or perhaps there are currently literary masterpieces out there that could be termed the great Mormon novel, but who is to be the judge of that? How will we know when the great Mormon novel has been written?

Near the end, the blogger says, “the great Mormon novel is a dream held by literary types in the church.” I disagree because of the generality of the statement, but even if it is the dream of some literary types, why stamp on it? Why tell them they are dreaming the impossible dream? (Now I have that song going through my head . . . to dream, the impossible dream, ah, Don Quixote). In my opinion, the generation with us and before us are some of the most talented and capable men and women I’ve ever seen. If there is a great Mormon novel, or one that is yet to be written, I have no doubt it can be achieved and still stay true to the author’s convictions and maintain their egos, ideas, and ambitions. It may take courage, empathy, and perspective, but I definitely think it's possible.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


by Stephanie Black

I got the cover for Methods of Madness today. Seeing a cover for the first time is one of those Big Moments on the path to the publication of new book. It’s thrilling, and a little scary. A lot of things in publishing involve the dual thrilling/scary thing—submitting a manuscript—“I did it! I finished and submitted my book! Maybe they’ll want to publish it!” alongside with “What if it isn’t good enough/marketable enough? What if they reject it?” Getting edits back—“The edits! Woohoo! We’re moving forward!” versus “Yikes! What will my editor say? What did I mess up?” And, of course, having a new book released—“I’m so excited!” goes hand in hand with “Will people like it? Will it sell well? What if it doesn’t? Aaarrgggghh!!!!”

I’m never any good at predicting what a cover will look like. The possibilities are too broad. I did fill out a form listing things like crucial scenes, any items that have particular significance in the story, and the appearance of main characters. But I never know what the designers will choose to represent the story, or even if it will spring from what I wrote on the form. Given the nature of my books, I probably would be safe in predicting that my covers will not include:

Pastel pink

Oh, wait. Actually balloons do play a role in Methods of Madness, but it’s not a cheery role.

Good covers are crucial. As authors, we work hard to write books that will hook readers, but we can’t hook them with our writing unless they’re willing to pick up the book in the first place—and the cover is the first thing they’re going to see when they walk into that bookstore. Interesting, isn’t it, that the first hook that we hope will snag a potential reader is one over which we as authors have little or no control? Publishers have professional designers who know how to create eye-catching covers, whereas an author might not be so savvy in that department. I know I’m not. I haven’t a clue how to design a good cover.

I’ve been pleased with the covers for my other books—in fact, reviewer Jennie Hansen called the cover of Fool Me Twice “one of the most compelling covers ever seen on an LDS novel.” Way to go, designers! I was confident I would like this cover too, but that didn't stop me from being a little nervous. What would it look like? When I got the e-mail containing the file of my new cover, I went and sat next to my fifteen-year-daughter and clutched her arm in an excited and nervous (and annoying) fashion. She appreciated this, I’m sure. Click. I opened the file. Here it comes . . .

And . . . I like it. I really like it. It’s intense. It’s creepy. It’s perfect for the story. I like the backliner as well—it’s very well done and a great hook for potential readers.

I’m not going to post the cover yet, because there are a couple of minor changes they’re going to make. This, my friends, is what is called a cliffhanger, of which I’ve been told Jeff Savage approves.

Monday, June 22, 2009

What Crosses Your Line?

Yesterday I taught a group of 18 year-old boys a Sunday School lesson on section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants. If you are not familiar with it, this section talks about a lot of things, but in particular learning. It even mentions reading good books.

One of the quotes in the lesson manual was from President Ezra Taft Benson. “Today with the abundance of books available, it is the mark of a truly educated man to know what not to read . . . feed only on the best. As John Wesley’s mother counseled him, “Avoid what weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, . . . increases the authority of the body over the mind.”

As I read this section over, my first thought was that as LDS authors, shouldn’t we strive not only to read good books, but to write them as well? Then I came home and read a great column on Meridian Magazine written by Jason Wright—who in my opinion is a total stud for many, many reasons. Here is a quote from what Jason had to say.

“There is obviously a market for R-rated books and I have nothing against those who write them. But this writer hopes to make a living sticking with PG material. I trust my readers to use my words to build mental images that they find appropriate. I'm certainly not the only “clean” writer in the industry, but, if I were, that would be OK with me.”

I liked Jason’s quote because he committed to writing what he felt good about while also not judging others who write books he would not be comfortable with. I think that most authors want to write things they can feel good about. Where things get tricky is when your judgment of what is “good” is not the same as mine. When does a writer cross the “clean” line? Especially if they write books like thrillers, mysteries, fantasy, or even horror, that tend to have more violent action? Or romances that tend to be more sensual?

I remember being at the last Covenant mystery dinner we did. As I was signing books with a bunch of other authors, a woman came up to Claire Poulsen, and said something like, “I really want to use your last book in our ward book club, but my bishop is concerned that there are so many murders in it.” I waited for him to say something like, “Well, it is a murder mystery.” But he said something much more polite that I can’t recall.

But seriously, how many times have you recommended a book to someone, only to have them be offended by something in it? Or had someone recommend a book to you, that you finally put down because you felt it was inappropriate? So where is the line? How do we as authors decide what is appropriate or not appropriate? If we publish with an LDS publisher, it’s easier, because they will make the call—even if we don’t agree with them. But many of us are now publishing nationally—where those lines are easier to cross. Jason also had this to say in describing what he wouldn’t put in his books.

“Mark the date and save this text. I will never use foul, crude, disgusting language or create explicit images of sex or graphic violence.”

That sounds like a pretty clear statement. And again, he’s not saying other authors have to do likewise at all. He’s just stating his view. But even something that clear has its gray points. What is foul or crude language? I’ve seen two books—one by Covenant, one by DB with the phrase, “Go to Hell,” in them. The Covenant one was actually a kids’ series. Does that qualify? It certainly wouldn’t push a movie into R rated status. And what is graphic violence? Let’s say I have a bad guy chop another guy in the head with an axe. (Hypothetically speaking of course, cough, cough.) Does that automatically qualify as graphic violence? What if it happens off screen? Is it okay? What if it happens on-screen, but I don’t have gray matter splattering the walls? (Oops, did I break the graphic violence rule right now by saying that?)

How about explicit images of sex? Are we only talking the actual act of intercourse onscreen? I know an author who recently had to take out a scene where a man admires the figure of a woman in a swimsuit. I don’t consider that graphic, but the publisher did. I heard there were some complaints about a couple of the speculative fiction books that were Whitney finalists having too much graphic violence. As a judge that never crossed my mind with any of the books I read. When I think graphic violence, I think blood and guts. I think Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I have read books that were too violent for my tastes, but none of the Whitney finalists came close to crossing that line for me.

Generally, I would have no problem making a similar statement to Jason’s—and again, I admire the heck out of everything he has done, and continues to do. He is a great example of a successful author doing what he believes in, and backing it up in the national and LDS market. But I am sure that at some point, someone will read something I have written and think it does not meet the guidelines President Benson listed above. So here’s my question for readers and writers alike:

Without judging anyone else, how do you decide what you will read—and if an author, what you will write? Just to make it fun, we’ll turn it into a contest. Saturday night, I’ll pick a random entry and give them the option of getting to read in advance the new Shandra novel or the new Farworld novel. Both will be in manuscript form and both will be e-mailed, to you (think reading on-line or printing out several hundred pages.) Or if you are not into either or those, I will purchase and send you a copy of any of Jason’s published novels.

Post away!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Facebooking My Twitter

by Sariah S. Wilson

I don't get it.

Facebook and Twitter that is - I don't get it.

As far as I can tell Facebook is this place where you have pictures and send snowballs and post comments on other people's pictures and snowballs. I also know that you have other Facebook friends.

For what purpose? What do you do with a Facebook account? I have one. My husband created it for me. I've just never, ever done anything with it. It's one of those things where I think that I don't have time to be updating and checking it constantly. And by the time I do figure out how to use it, Facebook will be the new MySpace and I'll have to learn all about the next new exciting and hot website.

So what do you do with your Facebook account? Please explain to me how/why it works, and what you find most useful/fun about it. I know it can be extremely addicting. When my 17-year-old sister came to see me in the hospital after my baby was born, she tried to see if she could use the nurse's computer in my room to access Facebook. I made her stop.

Twitter is the one that I can't wrap my mind around. 140 characters, right? On whatever you feel like writing about?

The thing I keep wondering is whether Twitter sends emails to your inbox. Because right now I have 14,000 unread emails (not a typo) from one Yahoo group I belong to that I don't want to get rid of because it's a historical group and all the information is way too valuable. And that's just in one folder of my inbox - I have like 20 different folders for different groups. That lets you know how much time I have to sift through emails. So if following someone's Twitter posts sends email to your inbox, I'll have to forget this phenomenon. Especially the people who Twitter every ten minutes about whether or not they like pancakes. Seriously?

Not to mention there are very few people in this world I can think of that I'd find interesting enough to want to read their random thoughts. I personally think that the limited characters, instead of producing haiku-like shots of brilliance, tend to dumb everything down. Or as Joel McHale on "The Soup" pointed out - we went from the poetry of "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" to the Twitter from astronaut Mike Massimino who said, "Launch was awesome!" (And then Joel McHale showed what the message would look like when the aliens finally landed - "Alienz, you guyz! LOL :-0")

Do you tweet on Twitter? Do you follow a lot of different people or a few? How do you read the messages? What benefit do you get from doing it? And can you chat back and forth with someone Twittering at the same time as you?

I'm not typically this much of a fogey, but when it comes to these social networking sites I just don't seem to grasp it. Please explain. Thank you.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My Apology to Betsy Brannon Green

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I owe an apology to Betsy Brannon Green.

I am a big fan of hers and own all of her books. I loved Miss Eugenia and the people around her that starred in the Haggerty mysteries, but I picked up the first book in Betsy’s new series with an open mind. Hazardous Duty was something totally different. The book hooked me from the first page and I couldn’t put it down. I had to see how the hero and heroine would get together after suffering through the grief of a separation, with one of them being widowed and their daughter kidnapped, and the scars left after one of them was tortured in a prison. I was coming close to the end, with maybe ten pages left and I seriously wondered to myself, “how is she going to wrap this up in such a short time.” The answer was, she didn’t. She left us hanging for the first time ever. I kept turning that last page to see if it was a mistake or a joke, but it wasn’t. There wasn’t anything else there.

Betsy Brannon Green had become a cliffhanger writer and I didn’t like it. At all. I told my husband I couldn’t believe it. Every other book she’d ever written had a great ending, a closure ending. And she tricked me with this one being a cliffhanger.

Well, when the next one came out, for the first time ever, I didn’t rush out and buy a Betsy Brannon Green book. I waited to see what reviews it got and if the ending was satisfying. I had heard pre-release people say that it wasn’t going to be as big of a cliffhanger as the first, so I was hopeful. But then the reviews started coming in that said it was a bigger cliffhanger than the first and I was cranky about that. I told myself I wasn’t going to read it, then, until the third and I hoped, final, book came out. But that was hard. I wanted to find out what happened, but didn’t want to be left hanging. Every time I entered a Seagull bookstore the employees gushed over the book, couldn’t believe I hadn’t read it, and told me I needed to get it right away. My hand twitched on my purse, the urge to pull out the debit card so strong I didn’t know if I could withstand it. But I did. I waited until two months before the next book was scheduled to come out, and then I bought it. I sat down and read it in a day, smiling to myself that even though I knew the ending was going to leave me hanging, I only had two months to wait before the end.

Or so I thought.

The release date for the third book was put back twice and so my brilliant plan had not worked. But two weeks ago, Code of Honor was finally released and you can bet your boots I was at the store opening day to buy it.

I read the first chapters and smiled. Betsy had made it worth the wait. There were her trademark twists and turns, always keeping the reader off balance. Savannah, the heroine, took more of a take charge role this time, and the emotions and tension fairly leapt off the page. I was a tad perturbed when the hero seemed more prickly than usual, but really, it was more realistic that he was that way, I suppose. If I had one tiny criticism, it would have been to make Dane, the hero, just the tiniest bit more gentle, but I do understand why he wasn’t and the ending more than made up for it. It was sigh-worthy.

Code of Honor also showcased the supporting characters we've come to love. They were so endearing and while I’ve been partial to Doc in the past, this time Steamer stole the show with his fashion choices and quick comebacks from all the teasing he endured from the rest of the team. There were also two new additions to the team in this book, and Betsy made them fit in as though they’d always been there. It was a great ending to the series, with surprises throughout the entire thing. I definitely shut the book with a sigh and a smile.

But then I remembered my crankiness at the ending of the first two books and I felt sheepish. So, Betsy Brannon Green, if you are reading this blog (she probably doesn’t, since she's busy writing her amazing books, but just in case) I owe you an apology. I’m sorry for every cranky thought I had about you and your cliffhangers. You delivered in the end and I am so glad. Please never do a cliffhanger series again. But, if you do, I’ll try very hard not to let cranky thoughts enter my mind and remember that, in the end, it was all worth it.

Sincerely, Julie Bellon

P.S. Here is the backliner for Code of Honor. If you haven’t read this series, I heartily recommend it.

Savannah McLaughlin has every reason to be afraid of the obsessed man behind the surgical mask. The injuries she has suffered while jumping from a moving car are nothing compared to the anguish she will have to endure at the hands of Mario Ferrante. She knows she must escape from the man who has a seemingly endless vendetta against Savannah and Major Christopher Dane. What she doesn’t know is that Major Dane---who has always avoided commitment---has finally declared his feelings for her in a dramatic way by deliberately ransoming himself for her freedom.

Now it’s up to Savannah and Dane’s team of expert misfits to rescue Dane. But success will require more than brute force. So the team designs an elaborate plan to bring Ferrante to justice and free Dane. But will the recruitment of an unlikely ally doom the most important mission of Savannah’s life? Will a shocking secret keep Savannah from trusting the man she loves?

Full of twists and turns, action and romantic tension, Code of Honor will keep you guessing and cheering for Betsy Brannon Green’s unlikely heroine.

Published by Covenant Communications, 216 pages.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


by Stephanie Black

So it turns out that my daughter’s high school graduation wasn’t a tearjerker sort of event, though I did come prepared with a big wad of Kleenex in my pocket. I would have been a lot more inclined to weep motherly tears at the sight of my daughter marching onto the football field wearing her purple cap and gown had I been able to pick her out from the crowd of 549 other purple-hatted graduates. Then there was the momentous moment when she received her diploma—at least I assume it was her up there on the stage; they did call her name and all, but, lacking binoculars, I couldn’t swear to her identity in court. But I have now seen her diploma with my own eyes, and can witness that she has officially graduated from high school. Big milestone.

So in the theme of milestones, I’ll go back to my discussion of writing milestones. I was inspired to write about milestones by Julie, and posted about a few of my first ones here. I've also really enjoyed Annette Lyon's posts on her writing journey, and I want to be as cool as Julie and Annette, so here goes.

When I left off in my first milestone post, I had just received my first communication from a publisher that wasn’t a rejection. Six-and-a-half months after I had submitted The Believer, I got an e-mail from Covenant telling me that they were "impressed with my storytelling abilities" but didn’t feel the story was quite right for their company. If I could target it more specifically to an LDS audience, they'd look at it again. Sci fi is a risky genre in the LDS market, so they wanted stronger LDS elements to appeal to more readers.

Naturally, I was thrilled. They planned to have a contract editor look at the book and make suggestions as to where I could enhance LDS elements. Then they would send the manuscript to me in a week or two. This was the week before Christmas, so I figured the holidays would slow things down. Plus, if they mailed me the hard copy of the manuscript, that would take a while (we were living overseas). So I waited. Finally, in February, I felt I’d waited long enough that I wouldn’t appear naggy if I sent an email inquiring about when I could expect the manuscript.

The answer I got was not a happy one. They’d been trying to decide what to do about my book. In the midst of working on my manuscript, they’d determined through market research that sci fi was too niche of a genre in the LDS market at the time. Short of rewriting the whole thing so it was a different kind of book, there was no way to make my novel un-sci fi. If they were accepting books in this genre, they would have accepted mine, but . . . bad timing.

Needless to say, I was very discouraged. There was no way I could remake the book into a contemporary thriller, nor did I want to. I thought the whole matter of The Believer was settled, but then Angela, the editor, sent me an email with the suggestions the contract editor had made before he stopped work on the book, and she had suggestions as well. At first I thought there was no way it could work, but then the little hamster wheels in my head started turning. Could I make this book into something that I’d be pleased with and that Covenant would find marketable in the current market?

I started working on it. My feelings went up and down like a yo-yo. Sometimes I was excited, and other times I felt like there was a 98 percent chance that no matter what I did to the book, it would still be too sci fi for their market. But I’d worked on the book for years, so why not take a few months to try to rewrite it for Covenant? What did I have to lose? The worst they could say was “no, thanks.” Besides, after reading the reader evaluations that Angela sent me, I could see there were elements of the book that needed to be strengthened, so I wanted to do some rewriting even if I ultimately ended up submitting it elsewhere.

I changed the setting, rewriting it as a modern twist on a Book of Mormon story. Instead of general Christian references, I made the book specifically LDS. I damped down futuristic elements. Yes, it was still technically sci fi (please don’t tell anyone, okay? Polite people call it a thriller) but I tried to make it feel un-sci-fi. It took me eleven months. Then I resubmitted it.

Which leads into the next milestone.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cliffhangers Part 2

Okay, I’ve still got fifty-one minutes to get my post in on Monday. What a wild and fun week. Thursday my oldest got married in the Mt. Timpanogos Temple. It was amazing to sit so that I could watch her eyes and those of her husband to be as they were sealed together for time and all eternity. Didn’t cry, but it was close. Great reception afterward, which ended with the most amazing double rainbow of all time. They are a great couple. So yeah, I guess I am officially old now. I can live with that.

On another front, I got back the edits on Farworld Book Two, Land Keep. All good. Nothing major. So I’ve been listening to lots of classic rock as I go through all the revisions. Should have artwork by the end of this month or early next month. This frees me up to finish Shandra Book 3 (will turn it in by end of next week at latest) and a couple of other projects I have been working on. Not to mention trying my hand at tiling the kitchen floor, and building shelves downstairs.

Speaking of Shandra Book 3, currently titled A Time to Die, I saw that my dear, dear friend Julie again called me out on the ending of book two, under the thinly veiled guise of complaining about cliff-hangers. Since I haven’t defended myself for leaving B bleeding on the floor at the end of Dead on Arrival for at least a couple of years, let’s jump back in.
(NOTE: I really don’t mind Julie calling me out. We’ve had this discussion more than once. But I thought it might be fun for readers to know what goes on behind the scenes when creating a series that has one or more cliffhangers. It might not be what you think.)
First, let me say that I have no problem with cliff-hangers at all under a couple of conditions:

First, the story itself must have ended. Bad guy caught, good guy saved, girl and guy together, etc. If it is a mystery, solve the mystery. If it’s a romance, complete the couple, etc. I hate books that do what Pirates of the Caribbean did with the second movie. That’s not a cliff-hanger, that’s one long movie cut in half.

In my opinion, a cliffhanger is something exciting at the end of a chapter or book that gives me a hint (or more than a hint) at what the next book or chapter will be about. It gives me something to look forward to.

Second, the cliffhanger must actually fit into the story line. It cannot be just a cheap device to sell more of the next book. This is where I seem to have lost some readers. I have received a few angry e-mails saying that leaving B in a pool of blood is just my way of trying to sell more books. I’m sorry, I just don’t see the logic with that. If you read book 2 and liked it, you will probably read book 3. If you didn’t like book 2 or didn’t read it, you probably won’t read book 3 anyway, so what is the point?

The cliffhanger will not sell more copies of book three. In fact as some of you pointed out, many people won’t read a series until all the books are out. Which means they’ll have a ball reading twenty-six books when Sue Grafton writes her Z book—assuming she ever does. Of course, I have to wonder if these people refuse to put presents under the tree because the pressure of having to wait until December 25th is just too much. Do they tape all the episodes of American Idol so they don’t have to wait a whole week to see who gets kicked off next? How do they have children knowing they’ll have to wait many, many years to see how it all turns out?

Sorry. It’s just that I don’t make the stories. I start a movie in my head and then I try as best as I can to record what I see playing. I don’t tell my characters what to do, they tell me what to write. I try to create outlines, but most of the time the story refuses to stay inside the lines. And personally, I happen to love reading books in a series, even if it means waiting on pins and needles for the next book to come out.

If you haven’t read the Shandra Covington mysteries, you can stop reading the post now, because it probably won’t make any sense to you. But if you have, and think the end was a rip off, please read on. Here I explain why book two ends the way it does.

At the end of book 2, B is in love with a woman named Brooklyn. This is not the woman most readers want B to fall in love with. B’s romance with Brooklyn plays a fairly prominent role in book 2 because B is Shandra’s best friend. And some people have the crazy notion that someday B and Shandra could get together.

B also happens to be a police officer. At the end of book 2 he passed his detective exam. For book three to work, it was necessary for B to get shot. Let me repeat that it was NECESSARY for the storyline of book 3. It wasn’t a “hey this will be cool and make everyone read book three” thing. It was a part of the overall storyline that filled my head when I first thought up the series.

Could I have had B shot at the beginning of book 3? Sure, but since it is a mystery, readers would expect that B’s shooting somehow ties into the mystery that makes up book 3’s plot. It does not. It is inherent to the storyline of book 3 in that Shandra is without the support of her best friend and comes into direct conflict with Brooklyn for Shandra’s part in B’s shooting. So what to do?

In my mind, it was clear. Get it out of the way in book two. Is this uncommon? Since virtually every prime time thriller ends with something explosive in the season finally, I would say no. Was it a bigger cliffhanger than many books? Sure. Was it some kind of trick to force readers to buy book three? Well if it was, it totally backfired since I haven’t even finished book three.
No it was not a trick. It was not a ploy. It was not even a device. It was part of the story. It’s what happened in my head when the story came to be. I don’t make this stuff up, really. I could no more change it than I could force one of my characters to act a way they wouldn’t. And you know, if people are still talking about a book that came out three years ago. The story must have been okay.

With all that said, to everyone who has waited all this time to find out what happened to B in book 3, I apologize profusely. I did not plan on it taking this long. The good news is, I turn in the story next week and Covenant has promised to do all they can to fast track it. The other good news is that I think everyone will love the end. Hope it’s been worth the wait!

Whew! Done with six minutes to spare.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Were the Nephites Totally Wiped Out?

by Sariah S. Wilson

The short answer: nope.

I intended this to be my blog subject last week, but it was my anniversary and I have turned into one of those parents who have five million things to do every day and am lucky to manage getting two of them accomplished. Time just seems to slip by so quickly.

Today we had another parents in different places with kids doing different activities and somewhere in the middle of that we realized that we hadn't seen our cat since the day before. He's not the brightest of creatures, but he somehow managed to get out of the house without anyone noticing when the boys went to play outside. (He's an indoor cat, and we worried for his welfare. Note above wherein he's not very smart (but awfully sweet). Although, I had to admit he couldn't be too dumb if he got outside without anyone seeing him. To which my husband replied, "Yes, the genius cat managed to bypass the 7-year-old's security." Which you may not find funny, but I did.)

So he showed up in the garage this morning crying to be let back in, and he hasn't so much as even looked out the window today (typically one of his favorite pastimes). I don't think he wants to talk about it.

With that drama behind us, I decided to post some on my thoughts on whether or not the Nephites were totally wiped out. This is another one of those things that I think somehow managed to get perpetuated in our culture even though the scriptures, IMO, make it pretty clear that a lot of Nephites didn't go anywhere and didn't get annihilated as we so often assume.

When we talk about Nephite survivors, people immediately think of the three Nephite apostles that have somehow managed to make their way into many LDS folklore tales. I'm not discounting the fact that they may very well have appeared to people throughout the ages, but when so many accounts parallel that exactly of other Americana folklore, well, it makes me wonder (like the people traveling to the World Fair - in Mormon stories it's a Nephite in the backseat, in non-Mormon stories it's an angel). I have this quote in my Book of Mormon files, and while I'm not sure of the author (sorry!), here it is:

“The basic structure of these stories seems to be this: someone has a problem; a stranger appears; the stranger solves the problem; the stranger miraculously disappears. A story may have more to it than this, but it must have these features. Any account that is taken into the Nephite cycle will be adjusted (probably unconsciously) to fit the pattern. The remarkable disappearance is particularly interesting. I see no compelling reasons why the Nephites must disappear. In Book of Mormon times they were thrown into prison, dens of wild beasts, and into furnaces, and in none of these instances did they solve their problems by disappearing. But in the modern stories, they vanish from the back seats of speeding cars; they vaporize before one's eyes; or they walk away and someone later tracing their footsteps in the snow finds that they abruptly end. The Nephites disappear, I believe, because the story requires it. The disappearance is the climax toward which the narrative builds, overshadowing in many instances the kindly deeds the Nephites came to perform in the first place."

I remember the Sunday I was teaching my teenagers about this concept and the speaker got up and read this story from his family's history about how his great-grandmother (or someone like that) couldn't speak and they prayed for her to be able to speak and when something important was going to happen and the need was great, a Nephite showed up (identifying himself as such), administered as quickly as he could and then his footprints in the snow stopped suddenly and then disappeared, with the neighbors saying they hadn't seen anyone at their house. Like the above author, I wonder why the three never used disappearing tricks while teaching (which was a couple hundred years after Christ's coming) in the Book of Mormon (which, if I had that superpower, I would totally use to get people to believe me. "Oh yeah? You think I'm wrong? Well, WATCH THIS!")

Anyway, something that is important to remember is that by the end of the Book of Mormon, the whole -ites thing had a lot more to do with political, social and religious lines than ethnicity. Mormon grew up in a time of awful warfare - with the Lamanites on one side and the Gadiantons (possibly at Teotihuacan) on the other. The Nephite people lost a lot of land and were forced further and further north as part of their treaty.

There were a lot of people who retreated. But do you really think every single person did? Is it possible that there were people who were technically Nephite as they lived in the Nephite kingdom, but that they had fallen away from their church? (We know that happened all the time then, just as it happens now.) When the Lamanite invaders came through there were people who just stayed put. They lived on lands their grandfather's grandfather had lived on and would not leave it. The Nephites and Lamanites show us over and over again how important the land was to them, that they were tied to it in a way that we probably don't understand. (As a kid I never did. I couldn't figure out why they just didn't go further north and find some nice land in South Dakota to live on.) There were people who switched their allegiance from one kind of leadership to another. The Nephites also had lots of people who were in desperate want of a king and a kingship system like the Lamanites had, since it led to great wealth. I imagine those are people who also stayed, since as nobility they would finally have a crack at all those riches. The Lamanites, once they conquered a people, would not typically rule them with a heavy hand. The people became part of the Lamanite kingdom, but retained their own leadership and continued to live their lives as they always had, but with a higher taxation situation as they would now have to pay tribute.

In Mormon 5:6, there is an indication that the Lamanite army got a lot bigger. This may have been partly due to conscription of the Nephite peoples they took over as they claimed former Nephite territory. Mormon 6:15 even says there were Nephite deserters who joined the Lamanites. He also says there were also some who returned to the former Nephite lands to the south. We also have lots of instances in the scriptures of Lamanites "becoming" Nephites or Nephites "becoming" Lamanites. Typically means they just switched their allegiances and/or faith.

In Mormon 6, Mormon tells us that he finished up his work on the Book of Mormon AFTER the big final battle. Which tells me he had inside information that he would not die in that fight. Because if I was going into a battle that I expected to be my last one, I would get the abridgement and writing done beforehand. Anyway, at the end of that fight Mormon indicates that only 24 of them were left (including Moroni), and the deserters and those who returned to their former homes (again, these ties to kin groups and to the land were strong driving forces, and the fact that they might have seen this as their only chance of survival).

Then in Mormon 7:1 there's something I find very interesting - Mormon talks about the "remnant of THIS people who are spared" (emphasis mine obviously, since Mormon didn't write in all caps). If only 24 people total had survived this final battle, how could Mormon expect that there would be any remnant of his people in the future?

Once Moroni takes over the writing reins, he says in Mormon 8:2 that the Lamanites hunted those who had gone southward until they were all destroyed. 1) I wonder how Moroni could have possibly known that every single Nephite survivor was killed, and 2) it seems more like hyperbole than actuality. Particuarly since Moroni contradicts this in Moroni 1:1-3. The Lamanites are putting to death every Nephite who won't deny the Christ (flip side of that being that if a Nephite was willing to deny Christ, he was probably allowed to live). If all the Nephites who had gone southward had been destroyed as indicated in Mormon 8, then why years later are they still hunting down Nephites?

And from a kingdom standpoint, it is a waste of time and resources to hunt down a very tiny element. It seems to me that the Nephites living in Lamanite territory somehow presented a real threat as far as religion and political allegiance went (considering that back then they were very much one and the same) and as such, would have had to be more signficant in numbers than just a "few." Perhaps the deserters were bringing those who had stayed or deserted back into the faith.

Moroni also wrote that the hunting was going on after he had written in Mormon 8 about how alone he was. This didn't necessarily mean totally alone - if Mormon had had a head's up about the battle and who would survive, I simply can't imagine that he would let his daughters/other sons or sisters/brothers or nieces/nephews or grandchildren just die. He knew what the end result would be going into that fight. When Moroni speaks about being alone, he's talking about the loss of his kin group - so vital in that time; there is no network of people to help support him and help him. Everywhere that he went (and whoever was with him), people would be suspicious of him and his life was in real danger not just from the Lamanites but any other people that he might encounter.

And in Mormon 8:7 when Moroni talks about the Nephites being gone, we know he's not talking about each and every individual and descendant that were ever counted among that people. He's talking about the Nephites as a whole being destroyed. Their fall as a body was great.

When the Jaredites were supposedly totally wiped out, we know that wasn't true. Their influence was felt for a very long time among the Nephite people. Secret combinations were a Jaredite leftover. We see Jaredite names among the Nephite people (Corianton, Shiblon). (There's other stuff but it's 11:30 here and I'm tired.) This wouldn't have been possible if each and every Jaredite had been totally obliterated in the last great battle.

Mormon indicated several times that he wrote the Book of Mormon for his people - that remnant of Nephite people that would live on as Lamanites, and for the Lamanites. Moroni says that he wrote his words for us, the Gentiles, as he and his father both understood that we would be the ones who would get their words first. How could they have this expectation if there were no Nephite descendants?

Answer: There are Nephite descendants. The Nephites weren't completely decimated.

P.S. - I may not ever be up for really debating this for at least a year or two, which is when I'm hoping normal brain functions return as I plan to be sleeping more than two hours at a time by then.

Friday, June 12, 2009

One of the Best Mother's Day Gifts I Ever Got

Guest Blog by Hilary Blair

When my mom asked me to blog last week I quickly told her that she couldn’t have two guest bloggers in a row. This really meant, “No. I don’t have anything to say.” So I come to find out, she decided to not blog at all? I told my mom this is still having two guest bloggers in a row and she is cheating, she doesn’t seem to care. I knew I never should have made her that Mothers Day Coupon Book giving her a blog coupon and fish tank cleaning coupon. (Give me a break, it’s all a poor college student could afford for Mothers Day, and besides, it’s better than the high five my brother gave her.)

So now I am stuck with writing a blog and you are all stuck with me. But I have a problem, I can’t think of anything to write. Okay, I can actually think of several things to blog about and have even started on a few ideas only to hold down the backspace key after only three sentences and start over with my blank word document. I don’t have a problem rambling on about a subject – when given a subject. But that’s the problem with blogging, if you don’t have something specific to blog about you are left with that blank word document every time. (I imagine writing a book is the same way? If you can’t come up with an idea you’re left with nothing.) So in an effort to solve my blank word document problem I turned to Google and asked for some ‘ideas for blogs’. These are a few of the suggestions:

“Talk about your day or week, what might not interest you is sure to interest someone else. “
Oh okay, sure, my week. Well I spent the typical week at work, arguing with older ladies about using their coupons and trying to explain to them that macramé went out a long time ago. I also painted the shed and planted some pumpkin plants. Started summer school classes online. Oh yeah, really interesting. *Scratch that idea*

“Tell a funny story.”
The only funny thing I can think of that has happened recently is the goose attacking the cat. But, I think you kind of had to be there to appreciate it. (Don’t worry all you cat lovers, the cat wasn’t hurt physically, his pride might need some readjusting though). And now that it’s a daily occurrence it’s really not so funny anymore especially since the cat is now terrified of the goose.

“Read the newspaper and write about the front page news.”

The top news story in today’s newspaper: What WAS that? Light in the night sky puzzled the earthbound

Wow. Apparently I should have skipped out on watching the replay of the Diamondbacks game and had gone outside to stargaze. I’m really surprised I didn’t end up with ten text messages telling me about this very peculiar event (that happens every other month around here). The airport of course claims that it was a weather balloon while the locals are sure what they saw was from another dimension. The next article was informing us that the Civic Center is going to be repaved tonight at midnight so there would be no parking allowed until the next morning.

These are the top news stories in my town.

It is now blatantly obvious that I have nothing to write about. So I will stop wasting my time and definitely stop wasting yours. If you have any suggestions on what to blog about for next week I’m sure my mom will appreciate them.

It's true. Her mom really would appreciate them! I'd planned to add a little more on here, but . . . my gosh . . . I have to go read the newspaper. I can't believe it! I lived in Mesa at the time of the "Phoenix Lights." Did I see them? Noooo! And now they were here and I missed them again?! I don't believe it! Being abducted by aliens is very high on my bucket list. I could use a little cooperation here.

I will pause long enough to add my thanks to those of you who were kind enough to remind me that today is Friday. I missed Friday last week. (Yes, the whole day.) Also, I've had several inquiries into who won the longest/strangest sentence contest. (You remember, the one without the prize. Sheesh. You people are so competitive! :) I'm going to have to declare a four-way tie there. Like Jennie, I had a pretty good idea what each of you were talking about. In one case, I thought the paragraph was actually quite lovely. (Deb.) Obviously, I read way too much literary fiction.

Anyway, Happy Friday, all! I've had a very . . . difficult . . . couple of months, but I have finally shoved aside the rock and stuck my nose out of my hole. If I'm not too frightened by my shadow (or at last abducted by aliens) I may actually be able to rejoin the social network of the world. I can't tell you how much I've appreciated the notes of encouragement along the way. You all aren't a network to me -- you're many of my dearest friends on earth! ~Kerry

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cliffhangers And Cliff Dwellers

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I would have made a horrible Ancestral Puebloan cliff dweller.

It’s the heights thing. I’m afraid of heights. And having to scale down a mountain to get home every night would have freaked me out. And these people didn’t use ropes and such to get down to their house, they just had toe holds (which you could still see in the rock.)

(This is a view looking down at the tour right before ours to Cliff Palace.)

(This is looking at Cliff Palace from the other side of the canyon. Can you imagine climbing up or down to that?)

The Ancestral Puebloans had some amazing architecture, though, and ingenious ways to store food and get rid of waste. (Did you know they recycled water to make their bricks? My kids were a teeny bit grossed out at that one and what “recycled water” really meant.)

(This city is just clinging to the cliff!)

And now that I’ve possibly grossed you out, I will move on to my topic du jour. Cliffhangers. Does anyone love them? Especially when it can take a year or two for the second book to come out?

I recently read the last book in a series in which each book had been left with a serious cliffhanger. Honestly, it had been so long since I’d read the first books in the series I couldn’t remember some of the plot and had to go back and re-read those in order to understand the last one. It was frustrating. So, like the ancestral puebloans, even if the writing/architecture of the story was amazing, I still had a hard time getting into it. My toe hold was tenuous at best.

(This is called Newspaper Rock and has art from Ancestral Puebloans and others. My theory is that Ancestral Puebloans didn't like cliffhangers either and kept adding and adding to the story so no one would have to be left on the edge of their seat so to speak. Or else they loved cliffhangers and this is the ultimate cliffhanger story that went on for hundreds of years. Which, if the latter is true, would cement my opinion that I would have made a horrible Ancestral Puebloan. I would have been the one standing there with my chisel all day trying to finish the story so no one would have to wonder how it's all going to end.)

So why do authors do cliffhangers? Is it merely to sell the next book? Or drive readers like me crazy? Don’t authors feel bad manipulating their readers into being so desperate to find out what happens next? They take us to dizzying heights in the book, make us love the story and the characters and then bam! It’s over with, and a main character is shot and bleeding until the next book comes out which could be a year, or two, or never?


I tend to avoid cliffhangers if I can. My favorite authors are generally those who tie up the story to a satisfying conclusion. I don’t mind if there’s a loose end that can go into the next book, but I really don’t like the out and out cliffhanger where something really awful happens in the last paragraph. (Don’t be offended if you are a cliffhanger author. I probably still like you and love your work, but if I know you are a cliffhanger author I will try to wait until all your books in the series are out before I read them.)

So what are your opinions on cliffhangers? Are you one of those people who love them and go to the midnight release to get the next book to find out what happens? Or do you hate them and avoid them where possible? Who are your favorite cliffhanger authors?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kids These Days

by Stephanie Black

Seeing as how the touchy topic of my advancing years was made public yesterday by roving reporter Rob Wells, I might as well revel in my old ladyhood. Instead of a blog today, I will post pictures of my grandchildren and complain about kids these days, after which I will become a misanthropic, crabby, Coke-swilling library hater. Oh, sorry, I was channeling Rob there for a minute. We old people are easily confused, and if I’m this bad now, just think what I’ll be like when I hit forty.

Now I’ll be random, because old ladies are entitled to be random.

*Remember how when you were a kid, missionaries seemed like, you know, adults? And now they’re kids? Is that cosmically weird or what?

*Note about youth these days: No offense, boys, but no one looks good with their pants belted halfway down their buns.

*You know how your oldest child seems SO grown-up at any given age, but then your youngest child seems like a baby forever?

*At my daughter’s graduating class baccalaureate service on Sunday, the final musical number was the eighties song “Forever Young.” And they used a Journey song in the opening slideshow. Am I entitled to feel smug that the younger generation is corrupted with eighties music?

*I cried twice at the baccalaureate. Once was during a musical number. My husband, who is neither a country music fan nor a sentimental music fan, was not similarly touched, and whispered something comparing the song unfavorably to Juanes, whom he doesn't like. Juanes is a Colombian singer whom my daughters adore. I rather like him myself, though I don't understand more than a few words of the Spanish lyrics (my daughters are both studying Spanish). My husband's take on the influx of Juanes music into our household was, "There weren't enough cheesy songs in English?"

*The second time I cried was during a slideshow where they showed kindergarten pictures of each graduate, followed by their senior yearbook photo. Cute little kindergarteners, all grown up! Sniffle.

*My youngest daughter has only one more day of preschool. Sniffle sniffle.

*Old lady confession: I don’t understand Twitter. I suppose this is because I haven’t tried it, but I just don’t understand what I’d say if I did try it. It’s a bunch of little updates you send throughout the day, right? So I’d be, like: “put the laundry in the dryer” and all my followers would be out there thinking, whoa, awesome, white batch or dark batch? Is that how it works? Someone explain this to me. Maybe my life is just too boring to make good tweets.

*My older son grew 3 ½ inches last year, which goes to prove that there is more nutrition in Flaming Hot Cheetos than one would think.

*Nostalgic comment about my long-ago childhood: in high school, I was good friends with Rob’s wife’s cousin, Brian. We called him the Eternal Freshman.

Tune in next week when I'll discuss afghan patterns and show pictures of my cats.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Social Media Marketing: Interview with Stephanie Black

by Robison Wells

It's been a while since I've interviewed anyone, and it's also been a while since I wrote about marketing. For those of you who are new to my blogging, here's the quick recap: in addition to being a mediocre author, I also have my MBA in marketing. We authors spend a lot of time marketing our books, but I think that we often do a really terrible job at it. Consequently, I will occassionally offer a little marketing instruction (meaning: I rant about my pet peeves).

If you'd like to see some of my other marketing posts, here's one about branding, and another about positioning.

Today, I'm going to be talking with Stephanie Black, the Wednesday blogger here at the Frog Blog. As you may have heard, Stephanie Black is really really old, and I recently had the opportunity to visit her rest home. It's nice, as rest homes go. Her room is full of afghans and pictures of cats, but she was kind enough to offer me some hard candy.

ROB: Thanks for having me today.

STEPHANIE: [in a decrepit, quivering voice] My pleasure, young man.

ROB: I hear you have a question for me about marketing?

S: That I do. You're sharp as a whip! As you know, I write books. And I do my best to sell them--I have a website, and I printed up some bookmarks, and I make all my grandchildren buy a couple copies. But now I hear that I have to get involved in social media? What the heck?

ROB: What the heck indeed, Stephanie Black.

S: First of all, what is social media?

ROB: Examples of social media are blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

S: Well, those are examples, but what's the actual definition?

ROB: For being old, you're quite astute. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about social media. (I suppose I could rephrase this, but why?) Wikipedia says: "Social media is content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies. At its most basic sense, social media is a shift in how people discover, read and share news, information and content. It's a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologues (one to many) into dialogues (many to many) and is the democratization of information."

S: Wikipedia? That can't be trusted! Anyone can add content!

ROB: Stephanie Black, that's what old people say. If you're nervous about anonymous internet users adding content, then you have no business dabbling in social media.

S: Wha?

ROB: Perhaps it will help if I tell you what social media is NOT. It is not a newspaper. It is not a mailing list. It is not a billboard. For crying out loud, it is NOT A BILLBOARD.

S: That's a lot of caps. Be gentle with me; I'm old. Why are you freaking about calling social media a billboard?

ROB: Because, if you go back to that definition above, social media is about transforming monologues into dialogues. You can't have a dialogue with a billboard. A billboard advertises shouts its message into the wind. Social media engages people, causing them to interact.

S: So, what you mean is that instead of posting my press release on my website, I should post it on a blog so that people can leave comments?

ROB: NO. That is definitely not what I mean.

S: Why not? It's a blog isn't it? People can interact with it?

ROB: Well, the key is to create a dialogue. People do not have dialogues with advertisments and press releases. They have dialogues with people.

S: Meaning: if people comment on my blog, I should reply to their comments? So it's a dialogue?

ROB: At the very least. But, more importantly, you should not think of your blog as a free place to post advertisements.

S: So I shouldn't post my press release? But aren't I marketing? That's crazy.

ROB: You can post your press release, but that should be rare and only after you've gained your readers' trust.

S: What do you mean?

ROB: Are you familiar with the Commitment Pattern?

S: Vaguely. I think I remember hearing something about that back during the Great War.

ROB: You are so old. Basically, the Commitment Pattern explains how to get people to commit to something. And before you ever start to tell them about the thing they'll eventually commit to, you Build A Relationship of Trust. Why? Because if they don't trust then the odds of commitment drop terribly.

S: I just wish you had another example.

ROB: As a matter of fact I do! And it's an old one, so you'll probably relate. Are you familiar with Dale Carnegie's book "How to Win Friends and Influence People"? It was written way back in 1934.

S: We used to date.

ROB: I bet you did. Anyway, when you're doing self-promotion for your book, you're basically trying to get people to like you. And Carnegie gave six rules for getting people to like you. Among them are: Become genuinely interested in other people. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. Talk in terms of the other person's interest. Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely.

S: He always had such good ideas.

ROB: The key is to remember that social media is social. That's the whole benefit of it. If you're not interested in being social, then just buy a billboard.

S: But why do I care? Lots of people use billboards and make a lot of money doing it.

ROB: Well, there are two reasons. First, can you afford a billboard?

S: Not with the price of afghans what it is.

ROB: Well, social media is cheap. But the second reason is more important, though: If you have a website that is nothing but a billboard, no one will ever visit it.

S: Why not? Haven't you ever seen Field of Dreams? If you build it, they will come.

ROB: That has been the motto of a great many bankrupt small businesses. If you build it, they won't come. Do people like to watch commercials?

S: They watch the funny, awesome ones.

ROB: Is your press release funny and/or awesome?

S: I guess not.

ROB: Dang straight. Unless someone is extremely invested in you and your books, then they could care less about reading your ads. People on the internet don't want a promise of future value (assuming they pay for); they want content.

S: Meaning, I need to give people a reason to come to my website other than to show them ads.

ROB: If you take away nothing else from this discussion, you should remember that.

S: So, let's talk specifics. What about Facebook?

ROB: Okay. First, if you're going to create a Facebook profile, then you need to maintain it. If you create an account--a personal profile or a company page--then you need to visit and visit often. Again, this is social media and you must be social.

S: But what do I say? I'm only there to advertise.

ROB: You participate. You make friends. You update your status, even if it's just to announce your current wordcount or your writer's block. You comment on other people's status.

S: That seems like a lot of work.

ROB: It is, if you treat it like work. But do you think that millions of people use Facebook every day because they hate it? Have fun. Get to know people and let them get to know you.

S: And then sell them something.

ROB: Ugh... Yes, then you can sell them something. Just remember that most people on Facebook are there to socialize, not to make purchase decisions. Your ads should be few and far between. BUT--you'll notice that they're more effective when they're rare.

S: Makes sense. What about Twitter?

ROB: Same thing. Twitter is being overrun by salespeople, and it drives the tweeting community crazy. If you have a Twitter account, then act like other tweeters. Talk about stuff, link to articles, and tell jokes. And, in very very rare circumstances, send out an advertisement.

S: This is all very silly. I'm trying to sell, and you're telling me to sell very infrequently.

ROB: That's because this isn't about mass selling, it's about personal selling. Social media allows you to talk to individuals, and you have to use different tactics.

S: So what about blogs? That's the big one.

ROB: Well, we could talk about blogs for a long time, but here are a couple of suggestions. First--and I know this is controversial--don't pre-emptively moderate your comments. It smacks of paranoia, and absolutely destroys that "build relationships of trust" thing.

S: But what if there's a crazy guy who swears a lot!

ROB: Then advise him to stop, and if he doesn't then block him. But you have to be constantly aware of the perceptions you're spreading. If I go to a blog that will not let me post unless I use my real name, then I will immediately think "This is a paranoid blogger who is afraid of comments that contradict their own." So I won't comment (even though I always comment with my real name anyway). And I'm not alone in this--new articles on social media come out every day that confirm it.

S: I simply don't know if I dare. I've been burned before by anonymous commenters.

ROB: Anonymous commenters are often those fringe customers--people who are just getting interested and taking that first step into interaction with you. Disallowing them is a terrible idea.

S: But what if this happens repeatedly?

ROB: Here's a case study. A company that I am involved in was recently under attack on a blog. I immediately wanted to jump in and defend the company, but I refrained.

S: Why?

ROB: Because I knew that open discussion is healthy. And, before long, someone else--a customer--jumped in and did the defending. What do you think is more persuasive: That the company defends itself? Or that a customer, who is not monetarily-invested, defends the company?

S: Social media scares me.

ROB: That's because you're old.

S: I certainly am.

ROB: There are more things that I could say about blogs, but I've rambled too long already. However, here are a bunch of great links that have awesome information.

The Road To Success is Paved with Blogs
Ten Common Social Media Mistakes
Ten Reasons Why Your Company Should Not Have a Blog
Three Kisses of Death in Social Media

S: Hooray. Now get off my lawn.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Top Ten Things We Learned on Family Vacation

by Julie Coulter Bellon

We recently went on a family vacation with all seven of our children to such places as Arches National Park, The Canyons of the Ancients, Mesa Verde, Anasazi Historical Center, Aztec Ruins, Four Corners, Monument Valley, and Capitol Reef National Park. Here are some of the things we learned as a family.

1. According to my daughter, there are no hot men in National Parks.

2. Getting rained on in Mesa Verde is like having small balls of ice hit you in the back.

3. The Mesa Verde rangers are not kidding when they tell you that you have to climb 104 feet up the side of a cliff on rickety old ladders.

4. When they say Aztec they really mean more Ancestral Pueblos.

5. Lots of German, French, Italian, and Swedish people go to National parks and they all gushed over my baby and said she was cute.

6. Never trust your GPS because you will find yourself in a cow field with the GPS insisting that you can still turn left.

7. When the ranger told us that Ancestral Pueblos only lived to be 32 and 36 years old, our children turned to us and said, "Hey, Mom, if you and Dad were ancestral pueblos, you'd be dead already."

8. Always make sure the toilet seat is down in the outhouse.

9. Never go to Visitors Centers with soft movie seats after hiking all day.

10. When your car breaks down in Farmington, New Mexico, and it's past closing time, there are some really, really nice people at Cooper Tire and Auto who will still help you and get you on your way.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


by Stephanie Black

My oldest daughter just turned eighteen. I am now officially the parent of a legal adult. “I can check myself out of school,” she informed me. Not that she’s planning to (right, Amy?), but still, it’s strange that she could. And, she informed me, if she gets arrested, she’ll get taken to the adult jail. When you spend as much time as she does hanging around with the cops, I suppose you think in those terms. The police Explorer program is what she’s going to miss the most when she heads off to BYU at the end of the summer. She’s been a stalwart in the post for three years, and I’m betting she felt a lot more sentimental attending her last DARE culmination than she will attending her last high school class.

On Sunday, immediately following church we had a “senior appreciation” event where we honor our Young Women who are graduating, and that night was seminary graduation. I would like to announce, with a certain degree of (righteous) pride, that I didn’t cry at either event. And I can tear up pretty quickly! I would also like to announce that boy does our stake know how to do seminary graduation—it only lasted forty-five minutes. That’s awesomely efficient. High school graduation is at the end of next week, and it’s a big high school, so I’m betting it won’t last forty-five minutes. I probably won’t cry then either (unless it goes on as long as my husband’s MIT graduation, in which case I might weep from exhaustion), but I plan to cry when we drop her off at college, or maybe just when the rent and tuition bills come due.

Tears aside, I’m absolutely delighted that she’ll be at BYU, and I think she’ll have a wonderful experience there. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I’m going to miss her. Thank heavens for cell phones and e-mail and Facebook—it’s become very easy to keep in touch. I would say thank heavens for texting, but I’ve never really gotten the hang of that. It’s probably like becoming a concert musician—you’ve got to train young, or forget it.

I’ve discovered that the older my kids get, the more time accelerates. In two years, my second daughter will head off to college. Ack! I could say that it’s strange to have kids this old, when it feels like I was just eighteen myself, but it doesn’t actually feel that way—eighteen seems like a long time ago (don’t you say a word, Rob. I’m not THAT old). And it was a long time ago that I was crawling under the crib, retrieving dropped binkies for the babies that have now grown into beautiful young ladies.

Now, when I’m crawling under the crib to retrieve binkies for my grandchildren, maybe that will feel strange . . .

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

You can never go home again

by Robison Wells

I moved on Saturday. I have been married for nine years, and in that time we have moved nine times. Granted, some of that can be chalked up to very short-term moves, like when we were housesitters for a friend for four months, or when we moved into a one-bedroom apartment for a few months while waiting for something bigger to become available. But, yes, maybe if I paid the rent on time we wouldn't have to keep running from the law.

At the moment we're living at my parent's house. For you readers who haven't heard my sob story before, I recently graduated with my MBA and have been on the job hunt ever since. The BYU housing office kicked us out after graduation (though I've already been getting phone calls from them asking to donate money to my alma mater), but since I don't know where I'll end up getting a job we figured that we shouldn't move into a new place of our own yet. (Which is to say: we have no money, and my parents had some spare room.)

So, all of our stuff is boxed up and sitting in my parents' garage, and we only have the bare essentials inside with us. I'm halfway tempted to burn the garage down and start over, because--holy crap--I didn't realize how much junk we owned until we had to box it all up. There were some boxes that we hadn't opened in the two years we lived at BYU--they'd just sat in the closet. And, when we were loading things into the garage, my dad pointed out the boxes that we'd stored there during our last move--boxes that I'd completely forgotten about. (However, when I mentioned those boxes to my wife, she informed me that she knew they were there and that they were full of VERY IMPORTANT STUFF.) (She's wrong.) (Well, I assume she's wrong. I still haven't looked in the boxes.)

It's weird being back in my home ward. Growing up, there weren't ever very many kids, and the one girl who was my age is also back in the ward and now the Relief Society president. I don't imagine something similar will happen to me. Instead, the Bishop will look at me and say "Hey, aren't you the kid who used to get in trouble for climbing up into the attic? I'd like to talk to you about some great callings available in the nursery."

Really, though, the ward has changed so much that I can hardly recognize it. I grew up going to a cool old chapel, built around the turn of the century (the old turn of the century, not the new one). Just before my mission we were moved to a fancy new boring building, and I don't really think of it as home. Also, almost everyone that I knew has moved, since they were all my age. The only people who I remember there now are so old that they don't remember me.

Likewise, I don't know anyone who now lives on my block. Everyone's moved. (This one isn't really so terrible, since some of the people who used to live on the block were weird.)

But it's still neat. My kids are sleeping in the bedroom that I slept in when I was their age, and during the day they go in my backyard, discovering the same nooks and crannies where I used to play. Of course, if they're really like me then they'll steal a neighbor's ladder to climb up on the garage, or fill the basement stairway with dirt so it will look more like a haunted house, or cut the phone cord just because they happen to be standing next to it with a pair of scissors and it seems like something interesting to do. Or--

Well, maybe I'd better go check on the kids. See you next week.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Comparison Game

Julie’s recent post about climbing the mountain with her daughter got me thinking about life in general and writing in particular. About fifteen years ago, I ran a marathon. Ran may be a bit of a euphemism here. I ran the first ten to twelve miles. I walked the next ten. And I limped the rest of the way. Admittedly my time was not very good, and at the end I collapsed with the worst calf cramps I have ever had.

The question is, was that a failure? Most of the people who ran the marathon beat me. My oldest kids—who were pretty young at the time—asked, “Dad, did you win?” No. No I did not. But here’s the thing, how many people ran, walked, or limped twenty-six miles that day? Very, very few. I ran further and faster than probably 99.99 percent of everyone in the world that day. Should I really worry about that less than one one-hundreth of a percent that beat me?

I look at my good friend Julie climbing that hill with her daughter, and instead of worrying about the people who went further than her, I recognize the fact that she was out climbing a mountain when most people were sitting on the couch watching reality TV, or eating Oreos, or cleaning between their toes, or doing anything less stressful than climbing a mountain with their daughter. And my response is Julie, you totally rock! Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. I already know that Julie is an awesome writer and an awesome mom and an awesome friend. But if I didn’t I would know it from the fact that she was out there climbing with her daughter when she probably felt like doing anything but.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, last weekend was BEA, Book Expo America. Many of my good friends were in New York doing signings and going to parties and hanging out with each other and lots of other cool authors. Where was I last weekend? Well Friday I was in Pahrump, NV. I’ll bet most of you don’t even know where Pahrump is. Saturday I was home writing.

It would have been very easy to feel like crap, that I still haven’t even been to a BEA. But this is where the comparison game can drive you crazy. If you aren’t published, there are people who are. If you are published there are people who have bigger print runs. If you have bigger print runs, there are people with bigger advances. If you have bigger advances, there are people who sell more books. If you sell more books, there are people who have received more prestigious awards. Get the picture?

Competition is fine if you are into that kind of thing. If it gets your juices flowing and makes you want to do better to have a target to shoot for, shoot away. But comparing yourself to others is a losing proposition. Literally. You. Will. Always. Lose. Because someone will always be more successful than you. Now, on the flip side you will always win, because while someone is always better than you, someone is always worse. But you will have a pretty miserable life if you are always looking for someone to feel superior over too.

Instead, find joy in what you are doing. I wasn’t at BEA, but I got to meet a bunch of awesome kids at schools last week. I got to be interviewed by both of Pahrump’s TV stations and the newspaper. I met some AMAZING librarians and teachers. I got to spend a week with my boys, hanging around the pool, working on my next book, and catching some rays. I have a really great life.

So do you, as long as you don’t start comparing it to everyone else’s life.

Back to the writing thing. Focus on yourself. What you do best. Focus on your successes and let your failures run off your back. If you haven’t been published yet, don’ sweat it. Keep writing. Most of the people who want to be writers never complete a single thing. If you have, you are ahead of them. If you haven’t than go ahead and do so. If you have been published, stop worrying about who is making more money or getting bigger print runs. Unless you can do something about it, why waste your time with stressing about it. Remember back when you said you’d give your right leg to get published?

And finally, if all else fails, ask Rob Wells to make you one of these.

Now get back to writing, and take some time to smell the printer ink.