Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, August 29, 2009

On Finding Your Talent

by Sariah S. Wilson

For those that may be newer to the blog, let me do a little background on my oldest son.

Shortly before his third birthday he was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. I was eight months pregnant when that happened and felt totally and completely overwhelmed. I didn't know what to do or where to even start to help him.

He was mostly non-verbal. He was particularly close to my brother Stephen (who was only nine when my son was born). I remember going over to my mom's house to have them baby-sit while I slept on their couch just to get some rest. An older boy (friend of a different brother) was listening to my son's babbling and said, "Dude, what's wrong with that kid? Shouldn't he be talking?"

Stephen turned to him and said, "He says the four most important things. Cookie, juice, Barney and Stephen!"

It's a funny/sad story, mostly sad because at three years old he had four words.

The experts told us that he would probably never talk. They said he would withdraw even further from us, that he would be unable to learn or have friends or do anything that normal kids do.

It's like a mini-death. The life that you envisioned for your child - being married, having children, having a job, serving a mission, all of it gone in an instant with a few words from a doctor. I grieved for the child and the man I thought he would be. It was one of the hardest, darkest times in my life.

Much as I whine and complain, I am not one to lay down and die. I took matters into my own hands, found all the organizations designed to help by myself, got therapy visits, investigated all the latest techniques and behavior modification programs - I devoted my life to it. You can't begin to imagine the amount of time I spent on my knees praying for him. I was determined to get him better, even though everyone said it was impossible.

So surely and so slowly, it did happen.

I don't know why it happened for us when it doesn't happen for so many others.

Of course, now the doctors say he never had autism in the first place, because he certainly doesn't have it now. I remember sitting there as he took tests where he was skewing toward normal and the complete and total thrill that it gave me.

It taught me about compensatory blessings. I did not have a child to raise that was as easy as many other people's children. But I got such joy out of each and every accomplishment. How many other people cheered the first time their child alternated feet while walking downstairs (important motor skill)? Or whooped out loud when their child pointed at something for the first time (to show joint attention)? Or cried for joy the first time their child said, "luboo" (love you)? I missed a lot. But I got a lot too.

Life continues to be a daily challenge and struggle with him. He has been diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder and ADHD and a learning disability. He has pretty severe behavioral problems and some issues in the classroom. But surprisingly he is an avid reader, devouring books as quickly as he can. (He is a big fan of LDS authors like Matthew Buckley, Rob Ficiur and Sian Bessey (and mom gets some respect when I say, "Hey, I know them") and he is constantly begging me for more books that he might like.)

I was sort of shocked at how much he loves to read. I tried Harry Potter with him for a long time and he hated it. Until one day he decided he wanted to read it. And within a week he had read the entire series, which he has reread in the last few months no less than seven times. (Whenever I'm trying to remember a Harry Potter fact, I just ask him.)

I would never have known the love he would have for reading if I had just given up and assumed he would never like it. Or if I hadn't exposed him to many different kinds of books until he found a style that he liked.

He asked us last year to play tackle football. At that point he had a propensity for hurting other children (including one child where he actually drew blood by hitting him with a Matchbox car) and we didn't know that he could be trusted to behave and follow directions. We told him that when he could prove it to us, we would let him play.

So this year he seemed like he was ready. I didn't really know why he wanted to play football. We are not a sports family. My husband doesn't like any kind of sports at all - we never have them on in the house. We're the kind of people that tape the Super Bowl and fast forward the game in order to watch the commercials.

He has been practicing since July. So far, so good. He hasn't had any behavioral issues at all, and fortunately for us, one of the assistant coaches has a kid on the spectrum so he's excellent at working with my son. He is treated just like every other player.

Most of these boys have been playing football for years, and they have fathers who played football for years and watch it/love it now. My son had neither one of these things. I worried about how he would do.

Today was his first game. He played defensive end, and he took to that game like a duck takes to water.

The coach told us that many first-year kids are really scared of being hit and play very tentatively until they get over their fear.

Not my son.

He gets this intense focus on the ball, and he is going to get it and heaven help anyone who gets in his way. There was a fumble, he was the one who landed on top of it. The quarterback went into his own end zone, my son was the one who tackled him, got the touchback and earned two points.

Then the last two plays of the game - the other side was desperate. They were losing eight to nothing, and this was their one chance to make it down the field.

Unfortunately for them, my son didn't let that happen. The last two plays of the game, he sacked the quarterback both times and that ball didn't move.

He's good. I can't believe how good he is, especially against these seasoned players. I think even the coaches were a little shocked at how good he was - they singled him out for praise at the huddle after the game, and even called here at the house to talk to him and tell him again how good he did.

He has this talent that I couldn't have imagined or predicted. I have tried to expose him to the talents in my world that I understand - like reading and writing - but I'm so amazed that he found this one all on his own.

I'm amazed that a boy who couldn't make friends is part of a team.

That a boy who couldn't learn knows all his plays and formations.

That a boy who couldn't speak got to keep saying "thank you" all afternoon.

That a boy who never quite fit in finally got to belong.

Do you have a hidden talent that would surprise other people if they knew? Or have your children surprised you in some way with their talents?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Alvor: Rolling Along

Guest Blog

by Laura Bingham

If you rolled your hopes and dreams up into one big ball and then pushed it down a snowy mountain to see if it would grow into a huge snowball then you would understand what it’s like to write- at least for me.

I’m not your average author. I didn’t major in journalism in college or spend half my teen years wishing I would grow up to be a writer someday. The closest I got to the professional side of books was being the student aid in the library when I was in eighth grade. The books were fine, but I was allergic to the perfume the librarian wore so most of the hour was spent sneezing.

I never wanted to grow up to be a writer. I tested out of English at Boise State University so I wouldn’t have to waste my time with one more class. In college I only ever read text books. It wasn’t until I finally graduated that I had time to read the fun stuff. Harry Potter came out and gave me something to do when things slowed down. Then, like an avalanche, more and more books came out and I found myself loving the escape that they could provide.

Then it happened. One night I heard myself say, “I’ve always wanted to write a book.” Even as the words escaped me, I questioned what I could be saying. It was late.

My husband asked, “What do you need in order to write one?”

I said, “I would need to know what the whole thing would be about.”

Five minutes later he was sound asleep and that’s when the story dumped into my head. I could see the characters, the plot, the arc of the story- I could see the story in my head.

The thoughts stayed with me and I found myself researching the elements of the story on the internet until I had a solid foundation to build upon. Then there was nothing else I could do but write.

Six months later, I finished writing Alvor. I spent four more months editing and revising. In that time, I sent my manuscript out to a couple of small presses, and on the second try I was offered a contract.

Alvor is only the beginning of my writing journey. In the last year and a half I have come to realize that I have a passion for writing and a dream for a career. There is so much more I want to do and so many more stories waiting to be written.
So welcome, everyone, to the snowball I sent down the hill a year ago. Maybe you can help me grow it into something wonderful.

Visit Laura's blogsite HERE and her website HERE!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Are You a Fan?

by Julie Coulter Bellon

At my daughter’s first birthday party, she received a toy that had a lot of bells and whistles on it. It had a large button to push and then music started, while a fan blew colored balls out of the top and they wound their way back down a twisty slide while the music played. It is a very entertaining toy, but the fact is, it’s really just a medium sized fan dressed up in colors with toys and music added.

I think this can be like writing. Have you ever been so excited to read a book because the cover looked good or the backliner was intriguing? I recently read a book that had an exciting premise. I couldn’t wait to delve into it more, but as I did, the book lost its sizzle. There were bells and whistles, lots of action with bad guys vs. good guys, but there was no depth. Lots of chasing, a predictable romance, and some adventure, but really nothing much more. It became all too clear that it was like the toy---in reality, it was just a glorified fan dressed up to look like entertainment.

Writing has to have depth in order to engage the reader. Usually there is an outward conflict and an inner conflict. From my observation, beginning writers have no problem with the outward conflict, bad guys chasing good guys, or something like that. It’s the inner conflict that seems to be difficult. We want our characters to be root-worthy. We want to see their struggles to be better people so that we can identify with them in our struggles to be better people. It makes the characters come alive in our imaginations and it gives the story depth when the inner conflict is done well. However, when it is not done well, or not even attempted, the story seems flat and one-dimensional. Or, if characters don’t learn and change, the point of the story seems fluffy and the reader may feel like they’ve wasted their time.

As an example, I recently read Isabelle Webb—Legend of the Jewel by Nancy Campbell Allen and I could hardly put it down. There was a great outward conflict in tracking down a jewel in India before everyone gets murdered (and a great train scene. Don’t you love murder mysteries on trains?) But there was also very well-executed inner conflicts. Isabelle Webb is a spy and has done things as a spy that she’s not proud of and she’s trying hard to reconcile her life and her feelings. But if she decides not to be a spy anymore, what else can she do? And with all the lying she’s done as a spy, has she lost her true self? Could anyone know the real her and love her for it, including herself? Her inner conflicts make it easy to identify with and like her because she’s honest about it. It gives an added dimension to the book and layers that feel like the reader is peeling them back to get the full experience of the book. That’s what writers want to give their readers---an experience. To feel like they were there. To get inside of a character’s head and feel like you understand them even if you don’t agree. I think the mark of a good writer is one who can offer that. Nancy Campbell Allen does it in spades.

So when you are writing your book, be aware of a great outward conflict, but don’t neglect the inner. They both are necessary to provide depth and layers, and make your story one that people will rave over. If you neglect one or the other, it leaves the story flat and while you may dress it up, all the bells and whistles in the world can’t make it better. Be more than a fan dressed up as entertainment. Give your readers the experience of a lifetime!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

School Days

by Stephanie Black

My youngest daughter started kindergarten yesterday. It’s official. All my children are in school. Two elementary schoolers (kindergarten and 4th grade), one middle schooler (7th grade), one high schooler (11th grade) and one college student.


When we were in the baby/toddler/preschooler phase, it was a waaaay distant thing to imagine all the kids being in school, even more far-distant than imagining that golden day—oh joy!—when our oldest child would be old enough to babysit our younger children. And wowie, that one was an awesome milestone. In the Pre-Built-in-Babysitter days we didn’t go out a lot. Now, with three babysitting-age kids, going on a date is usually as easy as saying “See ya” and walking out the door (and maybe sticking a pan of frozen-something from Costco in the oven—or telling them to do it—for their dinner). Having older kids around is awesome. Yeah, tiny kids are cute and cuddly and non-hormonal, but older kids can babysit!

This past weekend was a whirlwind trip to Utah to drop my oldest daughter at BYU (Erk! We’re one babysitter down!). We left Friday evening around 7:30. My husband realized he forgot his sunglasses. We returned to the house. We left again. My daughter realized she’d forgotten her beloved insulated cup. We returned again. It was then my turn to forget something, but I dropped the ball and remembered everything I wanted to bring, because I’m just that organized. Ha ha! In my dreams! But in this case, I did have my stuff: giant jar of Jelly Bellies, check; iPod, check; P.G. Wodehouse audio book of Jeeves short stories, check, what ho.

It was actually a sad trip for audio books. I had browsed the selection at the library and chosen a few that I thought would interest both my husband and me. Of the three I brought, we liked one (the Wodehouse). The second I’d had hopes for because it was by an author I like, but the opening was so boring that we gave up after not too long. Good heavens, man, get to the story! And the next one was a big historical-type thing, and also had a boring beginning and then was kinda unappealing in general, and we didn’t make it past the first CD. But it was a peaceful trip—funny how that works when the only offspring in the car is eighteen years old. We spent the night in Reno, then got to Provo early Saturday evening, then left Sunday morning after snapping a few pictures of my daughter on campus. It’s about a twelve-hour trip each way, so it was a lot of Nevada in a short period of time, but I’m pretty sure the pioneers don’t feel sorry for us in our padded, air-conditioned vehicle.

We did slip in a quick trip to Seagull Book while we were in Utah. I hadn’t yet seen Methods of Madness on the shelf (we have a Seagull about half an hour away, but I haven’t been up there since the book’s release), so when my sister-in-law said there was a Seagull right next to the Wal-Mart we were planning to visit to buy laundry soap and what-all for my daughter, well, of course I wanted to stop in. It was so much fun to see a big display of my books—that’s such a thrill. For years, whenever I'd visit LDS bookstores, I'd yearn to have my own book on the shelf, and now that dream has come true. So I had my daughter take some pictures, and the staff probably thought I was wacko, but they were so sweet and said nice things about my book and I signed the books they had in stock and it was totally fun. So to the lovely ladies at the Lindon Seagull, you are awesome!

And, of course, Seagull is filled with books that I’d love to buy, but it would be dashed awkward, don’t you know (did I mention we listened to Wodehouse on the trip?) if I were to empty the family coffers into the till at Seagull, leaving nothing but a piece of lint and a handful of euro coins from our Ireland days to pay the bills. So I chose one book—Josi Kilpack’s English Trifle. I really enjoyed Lemon Tart—rushed to nominate it for a Whitney Award as soon as I read it—and I’d heard English Trifle is even better, so I’m looking forward to reading it.

And now, I've got two hours and ten minutes left until I need to go pick up my daughter from kindergarten, so I'd better get to work on my own book.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Time to Set Another Goal

by Robison Wells

My writing group likes to make fun of me, because I have a tendency to bring a lot of Chapter One's to critique. You know that story that President Monson likes to tell about the furniture store advertising "Finishers Wanted"--they actually wanted finish carpenters, but President Monson talks about how it's important to finish what you start and endure to the end. Well, President Monson would not be happy with my novel writing.

Granted, like most stereotypes, my writing group's perception of me is a little off. I think I've brought four chapter ones to the group, one of which was a rewrite of one I'd already brought, which means that I've only been working on three different stories. Even so, I think I'm much better at starting a book than finishing one.

I think this is because I have good ideas for scenes and good ideas for characters, but I don't have good ideas for plots. My books have a premise, but not a plot. As you can imagine, this doesn't translate well into 80,000 word stories.

However, the time has come. On Saturday, my brother's family came over to visit, and while we were sitting in the back yard, he made a proposal to me: if I was ready for awesomeness, he would pay my way to the World Fantasy Convention. This convention isn't one of the big media conventions, where thousands of people swarm the hall wearing Jedi robes and Spiderman outfits. This is a convention that is small, but packed with editors and agents. It's where Dan and Brandon Sanderson both met their editors. And, since I would be traveling there this year with Dan and Brandon, who are both published and friends with lots of insiders, it's a potential goldmine for me.

But there's one problem: it's a fantasy convention, and I don't have a single fantasy book. Yes, the very first book I wrote was fantasy, but it was terrible and was lost a few years ago in a harddrive failure. And other than that, I have a few chapters of a sci-fi thing, and half a book of a superhero-YA. So, when I go to World Fantasy and have this great opportunity to meet agents and editors, I won't have anything to give them.

Or will I?

World Fantasy is at the end of October. That gives me two months. And, since I'm unemployed, it gives me two months of full time writing. I can totally pump out a book that fast. I wrote Wake Me When It's Over in two and a half months, and that was while working full time. (On the other hand, I wrote The Counterfeit in two and a half years.)

So, my plan is this: I mentioned a few weeks ago that I'm blogging every day about my weight loss plan. This is based on the principle of accountability: that if I am constantly having to report my goals, then I'll be better at fulfilling them (because I don't like to publically announce my suckiness). So, from here on out, I'll be posting a word count every day, along with my dieting status. You'll be able to follow it here. Let's just hope that my writing goes faster than my weight loss.

You can also get updates about me, my diet, my writing, my whiny complaining, and my misanthropy by following me on Twitter. You know you want to. How could something that feels so right be wrong?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Prologues are Like Onions

I love creamed onions. Little ones about half the size of a golf ball. My wife makes them every Thanksgiving, mostly at my request and I scarf them down. But even though they are one of my favorite vegetables, I wouldn’t bring them as a side dish if I went to a friend’s house for dinner. That’s because not everyone likes creamed onions. In fact, most people I mention creamed onions to give me a funny look—like maybe I’m talking about something really odd; say chocolate zucchini mousse with potato chip crust or something.

That’s the same way I feel about prologues. Most writers who have spent much time around me think I don’t like prologues. I’m definitely mean to them. I call them names, pick them last for kickball, occasionally even stick their sentences in the toilet and give them swirlies. So you can understand why people would get that idea.

The truth is, prologues and I are actually good friends. I always, always, read them in books. I have used them several times in my own books. I have used them in both of my Farworld books (although I called the one in Water Keep, “Chapter One” and the five I spread throughout Land Keep “Interludes.” I believe they are almost required these days for epic fantasy. So why the hate fest when prologues and I are out in public?

Let’s start with the beginning of a novel. When most beginning writers finally start the story they’ve been waiting their whole life to write, there are certain things they tend to do. I call it “setting the table.” They know they have a great meal (story) coming, but before we are ready to eat (read) we need to get our plates, silverware, seating assignment, etc. In a story these settings come out as background information. What does the setting look like? Is it an ocean villa? A dense jungle? A world where everyone dances, or sings, or does magic? Who are the characters? Why are they there? What do they look like? If it’s a new world, we need to know that the village is located at the banks of a rushing river that originates deep in the bowels of a forested mountain populated by dark creatures that sit around fires making evil brews. If it’s a mystery we need to see the bad guy strangling an innocent. If it’s historically-based we need to see the main characters ancestors.

Right? I know this is true, because I talk to beginning writers all the time, and I browse local bookstores and read books by authors who I know have new books out.

But what does the reader want? Immediacy. Action. Intrigue. They want to get sucked into the story so completely that they can’t bear to put the book down for a minute. Of course, even most beginning authors know that a book needs to begin with something interesting. So when they read their own beginning, they have to admit it really isn’t all that gripping. What to do?

The right answer here is, fix the problem. Gut the first chapter. Take out all the flashbacks, infodumps, flowery descriptions, history, etc. Get rid of the whole first chapter if you need to. Start where the story is so gripping that any reader would have to keep reading. So what if they don’t know where the story is going? So what if they might be a little confused at first? So what if they don’t know why the main character wakes up in a jungle or how the plane crashed on the island, or even that he is a doctor at first? If the story is gripping enough, they will read on. They will find out. That’s your goal as an author. And as a reader, you know that you love books where you are thinking, “Okay this is cool, but what’s going on here?”

The easy answer is to throw in a prologue. Tim Travaglini, editor at Putnam spoke at a writers conference I attended last year. He called prologues and flashbacks lazy writing. I’m not sure that everyone understood what he was saying. My take on his comment was that many writers realize they have the problems mentioned above in their first chapter. But instead of fixing the problem, they try to band-aid it.

A friend of mine asked me to look at his first chapter a couple of months ago. Since we are friends I felt that I could tell him the truth. His writing is very good, but his first chapter sucked rocks. Nothing happened. There were lots of thoughts, back story, information—even a little heavy-handed foreshadowing. But zero story. When I pointed this out to him he thanked me. A week later, he sent me a very slightly altered first chapter. But to fix the problem, he added—get ready—an exciting prologue. Arghhh!!!!!! This is why I tear my hair out when writers bring up prologues. A prologue isn’t a fix. It doesn’t change the fact that your baby is still ugly. It just puts a little eye shadow on it and calls it good.

“What’s the problem?” you ask. The prologue is exciting enough. People will open the book, read the beginning pages, get hooked, and keep reading. That’s like saying a crappy movie beginning can be fixed by an entertaining animated short before the feature starts. Your book is still starting in the wrong place. If it won’t stand on its own, you to get back to work and fix it.

But what about prologues that give background information necessary to the story? Maybe what happened two-hundred years ago? That is so far back that it has to be a prologue. So what happens if the reader skips the prologue and misses the vital information? WE don’t skip prologues of course, because we are good readers. But poll after poll has shown that lots of readers do skip the prologue. So they’ll never see your “vital” information. Or what if you have the opposite problem? What if your first chapter is exciting, but your prologue is not so much—because it’s giving all that background information? What happens if a good reader picks up your book in the store starts with the prologue and puts it back because the story isn’t gripping enough?
Trust me, I speak from experience here. Eight years ago I wrote a high-tech thriller called, Cutting Edge, under the name Jeffrey S Savage. It was published by a medium sized Utah press. My first chapter was all the bad things I just talked about. The second wasn’t much better. I was a beginning writer. I hadn’t attended any writers conferences. But I recognized the problem just enough to create a really cool prologue with FBI agents discussing something really dark and exciting.

You know what happened? The book did get published. And it did sell. But over and over people said, “After the first couple of chapters, your book got really good.” Critics caught the problem right away and pointed out—rightfully so—that the prologue was unnecessary to the story. If I could rewrite that book, the first thing I would do is rip out the first two chapters. The second thing I would do is trash the prologue.

So what’s the moral of this story? That prologues are bad? Nope. Like people, prologues can be bad. But they can also be interesting, funny, charming, witty, and even useful on occasion. So do try this. Write your book without a prologue on the first pass. Make sure that all the information necessary to the story is in the book without a prologue. Then, when you are completely done with writing a book which can stand on its own, carefully consider how a well written, exciting prologue might add to the story. You can then write your prologue (if you still want to) guilt-free, knowing that it doesn’t matter of people read the prologue or not. The book will still stand on its own.

Here’s a quick example from an idea I’ve been playing with lately, called Demon Spawn. It’s a YA adventure with dystopian and sci-fi elements. I won’t post the whole first chapter because it’s quite long, It may not be the best example in the world, but it's mine so I can publish it without any copyright issues. What I want you to look for is how the reader discovers things, like where the story takes place, what the characters are, and what’s happening, through the action of the story. This book will not have a prologue.

* * *
(Warning: I do use the word butt twice. So if that would offend you, don't read this. Or just read with one eye closed. That way you should miss at least one of them!)

Welcome to Hell, please keep moving. Have your identistamp ready for inspection. Welcome to Hell, please keep moving . . .

The speakers started booming their repeating message when I was still six blocks from the immigration station and I nearly bolted out of my skin. How could it be that late already? The J-trans would arrive before I got there; I’d be kicked out of academy on my first day. I broke into a terrified sprint—searching the sky for silver tracks and listening for the rumble of approaching engines—before realizing Cinder was standing perfectly still thirty for forty feet behind me, laughing. Her black eyes shined with wicked humor in the early morning darkness.

“Oh, girl, that was great. You should have seen yourself. Priceless.” She clapped a palm to her mouth.

One by the one, the tentacles of panic unwrapped themselves from my brain and I realized the J-trans couldn’t be arriving yet. Although the messages continued to batter the air, thousands of feet overhead the cavern roof was still hidden from view. It would be at least another hour before the stone began heating to a faint dusky red that would eventually blaze to orange. The air that would be broiling by mid-day was actually cool enough that I felt chilled through my snug leather uni.

“You knew that was going to happen didn’t you?” I said, waiting for my heart to stop racing. Cinder was my best friend, but at that moment I could gladly have wrapped my hands around her throat and shaken her until her pointy little teeth rattled like dice.

Her tail twined itself around her waist as if trying to hold in the giggles that slipped through her fingers. “Your eyes got all buggy. Your mouth went wahhh! I swear if your horns weren’t connected, they’d have shot fifty feet straight into the air. Funniest thing I’ve seen in weeks.”

Turning away, I stomped toward the station. I was sure I’d see the humor in it all later, but right now I was so nervous I hadn’t dared to eat breakfast. The last thing I needed was to think I was late for my first day of duty.

“Wait, Blaze.” Behind me the sharp click-clack-click of cloven hooves echoed off the densely-packed apartment buildings on either side of the street as Cinder ran to catch up with me. “I’m sorry,” she said, trying to stop laughing and failing miserably. “It’s a tradition. Every newbie freaks out the first time they hear the speakers start up.” She put a hand on my shoulder and I allowed her to turn me around.

“You could at least have warned me,” I grumped. “When I heard the message, the only thing I could think of was explaining to my parents how I’d been kicked out of academy my first day on the job.”

Cinder nodded and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “I know, I know. I was the exact same way when it happened to me three months ago—sure I’d read my clock wrong or something.”

“Why do they start the message so early?” I asked, folding my arms across my chest to keep warm.

Cinder shrugged and we began walking again. A brief gust of wind caught a foil coffee cup and sent it dancing into the unsteady circle of illumination cast by a buzzing lamp pole. Across the street a fist-sized blue imp darted out of a crack, sniffed the inside of the cup, and dragged it into the darkness.

“Who knows? Maybe it starts when the J-trans leaves Judgement. Or maybe the halos just want everybody to know they’re coming so we have plenty of time to drop down on our knees and get ready to worship at their golden feet.”

Instinctively I glanced over my shoulder to make sure no one was listening. “One of these days you’re going to get in real trouble talking that way.”

“Huh.” Cinder stuck out her tongue as if nothing scared her. “No one around here but humies.” To prove her point she shouted, “Hear that, everyone. All you halos can kiss my shiny red butt!”

I couldn’t help grinning in spite of my nervousness. “Hate to break it to you, but your butt’s not all that shiny.”

Two stories above us a light went on and a pale white face pressed itself to the glass. Cinder unclipped her move-along from her belt and triggered a sizzling bolt of blue fire into the air. “Go back to bed, humie.” The face darted from sight and the light went out

“See, I told you nothing—”

Cinder’s voice cut off in mid-sentence as a hulking figure appeared out of the shadows. A pair of bright white lights pinned both of us to the soot-covered brick wall. “Drop your weapon, demon spawn,” a deep voice commanded.

Cinder’s move-along fell from her limp fingers, bouncing off the cracked sidewalk with a metallic clatter and rolled into the gutter. Her face went from pink to red as the blood drained out of it—her eyes so wide they looked like bottomless black pits.

“You too.” The spotlights moved to me and I had to squint to keep from being blinded.

“Don’t think so,” I said. I held out my hands, palms up. “Guess you’ll just have to take me in, big bad demon.”


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Conquering Your Everest

by Sariah S. Wilson

So, I just wrote this whole post that by the time I was done I realized I had no point and it just sounded like I was whining. It did help me to figure out that something I've been worried about writing-wise I shouldn't be worried about. Because I imagined what the responses would be and it helped me to have an internal conversation with myself. And then realizing that the question had been asked and answered, there didn't seem to be a point in putting up my ramblings which probably would have made no sense to anyone but me.

(For those who are intently curious, it had to do with my fear about working on books for a national market given my current life situations.)

After spending the last hour writing that thing up, and using what little creativity I might actually have had left today, I am spent.

Being tired is a recurring theme in my life right now - I wonder if the day will ever come again where I will get enough sleep. Some people fantasize about winning the lottery, others about fabulous vacations - my daydreams revolve around feeling rested.

Anyway, I was over at a blog recently where the poster talked about conquering her own Everest - accomplishing a task that seemed too overwhelming and too impossible (in her case, cleaning a shed).

She invited readers to tell about their own Everest - the one I shared there was my weight, but I have to say that right now my writing feels a bit like an Everest. Too much mountain to climb, too big to overcome. Too much to do, not even knowing where to start my path.

It made me wonder what our readers would say their Everest is - what impossible task do you have that you keep putting off even though you know you should do it?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Out of Office: Celebrating Senior Citizen's Day

by Kerry Blair

Please note: Today's blog is published in larger type as a courtesy to our bifocal-enhanced readers.

I have no excuse not to blog today, but I do have a reason. It is National Senior Citizen’s Day. Recently, I was asked if I qualified for a 55+ senior discount. (Clearly, the little twit had had her eyes pieced along with her nose and tongue, but still!) This week’s mail brought yet another not-to-be-missed offer from the AARP*, but also a circular from Sephora. I was as mollified by the latter as I was mortified by the former – right up until I saw it was an ad for wrinkle cream. As much as I hate to admit it, today’s holiday is in my honor. Please send flowers. I’ll save them for the casket . . . which I figure should be along any day now.

It did occur to me to try to put a positive, inspirational spin on this thing by pointing out that Toni Morrison was 63 when she won a Nobel Prize for literature; that Mary Ann Robertson Moses was 76 when she first picked up a paintbrush; or that Golda Meir was named prime minister of Israel at 71, but I won’t. That would be work and I’m on holiday.

Instead, I’ll share a few of my favorite “you know you’re getting old when . . . “ truisms and then invite you to contribute to my list. Every comment gets one chance to win. The prize? Let’s see . . . I’ll send you my copy of Crones Don’t Whine by Dr. Jean Bolen or an autographed first-edition of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book I plan to publish at 92 – your choice.

A few of my current favorites:

You know you’re getting old when . . .

Your brain cells are finally down to a manageable size.
Your knees go out more than you do.
It takes twice as long to look half as good.
Caution is now pretty much the only thing you exercise.
You wonder how you could be over the hill when you don’t remember being on top of it.

Your turn. I’m off to feed the cats, water the violets, and watch Jeopardy. (Oh, that Alex Trebek!) If only I can find my glasses and cane . . .

*Angry, Age-Resistant People -- not to be confused with the national group of the same acronym.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Committee

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Sometimes the perk of being a writer is being on committees. So far this year I am on three committees. (I know, that's probably a lot, but they're fun!)

I am on the planning committee for The Book Academy—A Conference for Writers and Readers (I even came up with the name The Book Academy, which I liked since we’re all learning about books and writing and the conference is being held at the university). But the really fun part of being on this committee is being on there with amazing people like Lisa Mangum, Kimberly Ralphs, and Kelly Smurthwaite. It always surprises me how much we get done at our planning meetings because we have so much fun and the time just flies by.

I’m so excited with what we’ve been able to accomplish and who our keynote speakers are (Brandon Sanderson and Maria Covey Cole) and who our presenters are. (We snagged Stephanie Black to teach about villains, and she is one of the master villain makers in LDS fiction, in my opinion. Our own Robison Wells is teaching a class on humor, I’m teaching one on editing, and J. Scott Savage is teaching all about characters and nuts and bolts. We also have authors like Anita Stansfield, James Dashner, Annette Lyon, H.B Moore, and Rachel Ann Nunes, just to name a few.)

I think one of the classes I don’t want to miss, though, is Lisa Mangum’s class about the other side of the desk involving submissions to her. She said she had a top three weirdest submissions story to tell and I don’t want to miss that. There are a lot of great classes being offered, that’s for sure, including marketing classes by Kelly Smurthwaite and Patrick Muir, book club classes by Chrislyn Barnes Woolston, and a self-publishing class by Marnie Pehrson. Can you see why I’m excited? If you are interested in registering you can go here and they also have a Facebook page. It’s only $40 if you register before Sept. 10 and that includes your lunch. What a deal!

The second committee that I’m on this year is the StoryMakers Conference Committee. It will be held on April 23 & 24, 2010 at the Provo Marriott. I love this conference because of all the opportunities you have to network with publishing professionals and the pitch sessions to agents. Plus, the food is good, the classes are exceptional and I get to see a lot of old friends. It’s still in the planning stages for the 2010 conference, obviously, but I can tell you there are some very exciting agents and presenters coming to the conference. Very exciting. Not that I was involved in getting any of them to come, though. My job on the committee is coordinating the First Chapters contest and I love that. I helped with it last year and must have done an okay job with it, so I get to be involved with it again this year. So if you have any first chapters you’ve been polishing and think they’re good enough to win awesome prizes, be sure to submit them when the time comes. There will be more information coming up on this conference in the next few months and you can check here for updates.

The third committee that I’m involved with is the Whitney Awards committee and if you haven’t read and nominated any outstanding books yet this year, well, get going! Click here for more information.

Conferences and committees are a lot of fun. They just are. And I’ve met people I never would have met otherwise. I highly recommend making the effort to go to conferences and be involved. The writing community can be as small or as big as you let it be, and I guarantee you can make connections, improve your craft, and have a lot of fun. So if you can come to either one of the conferences, or be involved in the Whitney process, you should do it. And come find me! I would love to see you all.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cougars and Villains

by Stephanie Black

I’m glad Rob blogged today and that he had a legitimate excuse for not blogging yesterday—I was betting on the lazy sack excuse, so I suppose I need to repent and not rush to judgments, no matter how well-founded they might be.

As he mentioned, my daughter is heading off to BYU very soon. This will involve a great deal of driving in a very short space of time. My husband has no vacation days to spare for the trip, and I’d just as soon not make the return journey all by myself, as a twelve-hour road trip is always better with company. We could fly her out, but then we’d have to ship her stuff. So driving it is. Because of our tight schedule, we won’t have much time with her in Utah—in fact, we’re planning to just slow the van a little and push her out into the street with a box of dishes and a suitcase in hand, counting on a cute returned missionary to find her and escort her to her living quarters.

Kidding. She’ll kill me if she reads this. She’s already gotten harassed on the marriage front because I married young, so relatives are inclined to tease her about the possibility of her doing the same (I got married the summer before my junior year at BYU, by the way, in case you were thinking I was in junior high or something).

This won’t be Amy’s first BYU experience—she’s actually participated in graduation exercises, though she doesn’t remember it. I was about eight months pregnant with her when I waddled across the stage to receive my diploma. Cute little Amy had her first months of life there in Provo while my husband finished his degree. (My husband and I will be celebrating our 20th anniversary on the same day we’re driving home from Utah. Isn’t that romantic? Nothing says, “I love you, darling,” like driving through the Nevada desert.)

I’m excited for Amy, but of course, I’m a little sad to think of her being so far away. But at least I’ll get to see her in a month. On September 24th, I’ll be in Utah presenting a class at the UVU Book Academy conference, which brings up today’s blog question. My presentation will be on writing good villains. My question for all of you is: Who are some of your favorite villains? Which villains stand out to you as being compelling and memorable?

Pardon My Absence

by Rob Wells

I was at a wedding all day yesterday, which is why I didn't blog. (You probably assumed that I didn't blog because I'm a lazy sack of crap. On any other week, you'd have been correct.)

The wedding was for my cousin, Rachel, who is a sophomore down at BYU and who met her husband seven months ago in their ward Family Home Evening group. She is proof that the system works, and all of you unmarried people just aren't trying.

(In related news, fellow blogger Stephanie Black's daughter is about to start her freshman year at BYU next week. Dear Stephanie: I expect an invitation to the wedding.)

Yesterday started out very festive: it was also my son's fourth birthday, and we wanted to try to do something special, even though he'd spend the bulk of the day at babysitters. So, at 7:15am we were all gathered in the living room opening his presents, and then we ate birthday cake for breakfast.

I made a slight error in the birthday planning: I thought that my son kept asking for a Lightning McQueen wall poster, but he has a bit of a weird dialect and he was actually saying "Lightning McQueen roller coaster". (The miscommunication didn't really matter, though, because didn't get him the poster either. I got him Batman.)

Anyway, then we went to the wedding at the Salt Lake Temple, and it was very nice. And then we broke the speed limit trying take our kids from the Salt Lake babysitter down the Utah County babysitter in time to make it to the wedding lunch, and I was stressed out and frantic and we got there ten minutes late--and then the bride and groom showed up forty minutes after we did. Dang newlyweds.

At the lunch we watched a video showing Rachel as a baby, and I remembered her as a baby--and it was only a couple weeks ago, I think. And it made me cry because I have a baby girl who will one day want to get married, and I will have to lock her in the basement to prevent it. (I don't care about my sons getting married. Kick those bums out of the house, I say.)

Also at the lunch: there was some yellow fruit cut into cubes that looked like pineapple but tasted like watermelon. If you can correctly identify that fruit for me, you will not win a prize (but you may feel like you've accomplished something, maybe).

Anyway, then we went to the reception and it was nice and the groomsmen had to wear pink ties. And then we finally made it back home. It's not really that interesting of a story; I'm just trying to explain why I didn't blog yesterday.

You can follow me on Twitter. I didn't tweet yesterday, either.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Goodreads, Lost, & Chapters

I’m going to be all over the board with my blog today, but the good news is that if you don’t like one topic, you can move onto the next.


Last week, a friend and fellow author forwarded a funny exchange between the author and a reader who ripped his book on a Goodreads review. The exchange was actually very lighthearted and humorous for both the author and reviewer, but it spurred a discussion on other reviewer experiences that were not so lighthearted. In fact, some were downright spiteful by the authors whose books were reviewed.

As an author, I love Goodreads. I know some authors can’t stand to see bad reviews of their books. I’ll admit, I get a sick feeling in my stomach when I read a really bad review. But at the same time, I would never in a million years give up the chance to see good, honest feedback. Goodreads provides not only ratings, but lots and lots of personal feedback from the people I am trying to appeal to. I am a Goodreads junkie. On Amazon, I have about twenty reviews. On Goodreads I have over a hundred and many more ratings.

As a reader, I also love Goodreads. How cool is it to be able to see thousands of people rating a book you might not have read? And these aren’t just any people. These are my kind of people—our kind of people. People who not only read a lot of books, but care enough about them to go on-line and list and rate what they’ve read. These are people who talk about books the way most people talk about sports or movies. I LOVE these people. It makes me so happy that I’m not the only one who feels this way about books.

So what’s the problem right? I love Goodreads as an author and as a reader. The thing is, I don’t love Goodreads as an author who is also a reader. Why? Two problems. First, when I review a book—especially a contemporary book—I am reviewing my co-workers. I am placing a star rating on people I may run into at a conference or in a league or on an on-line board. I read a national YA book the other day that I really didn’t like. But in a roundabout way, I know the author. I’ve never met the author before in person, but a friend of a friend, kind of thing. And, assuming that author is a Goodreads junkie like me, that author might see my poor review, notice I am an author too, and remember me when we bump into each other. (Ouch!)

Which brings me to my second problem. I want honest reviews. I know of many, many authors who get a bad review and immediately go to their friends and ask for good reviews to be placed. I personally HATE that. Not that the authors want good reviews. We all do. Or even that they ask their friends for good reviews. But that the review process is now being corrupted. We are rigging the game. It would be like a sports star asking his friend to let him score an extra touchdown because he got blanked the week before. Even without the issue of me reviewing other people’s books, I worry that if authors regularly respond to Goodreads reviews, readers might start to be afraid to post honest reviews. As much as I don’t want bad reviews, I do want honest reviews. I learn a lot from reading the negative and positive reviews of my books and others. It makes me a better writer to see what some people don’t like.

So the questions is, do I remain a Goodreads author? It’s great to make friends, have discussions, post my blogs, do contests, etc. But are people less likely to review a book honestly of they see the author is also a member of Goodreads? Are you less likely to give a poor review to an author is a member of Goodreads? If you are an author, how do you feel about reviewing books by other authors you know?


Okay, this is going to make me look like a total dweeb, but I am not a fan of the TV show Lost. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying I dislike it. I’m saying I don’t watch it. At least I didn’t watch it. James Dashner and Jessica Day George would kill me on the spot if news of my dark secret got out—so don’t tell them, okay? There is a reason I never started watching Lost. If Lost was a book or even series of books, I would have read them at once. A book or series has a set lifespan. The author chooses how long the series will be and should know in advance how it will end. A TV series is not like that. It can end any time the network decides viewership is too low. Or it can go on as long as people keep watching. I don’t want to get caught up and hooked only to be left hanging or dragged along after the series should have ended.

With all that said, I am now a Lost junkie. I discovered and watched the first episode. And like any other addict, I see all those other episodes just calling to me—almost commercial free—and I click. Since most of you who are Lost viewers have seen all the episodes I am just now discovering, and those of you who haven’t watched it probably never will. I feel like I can review the series without giving away spoilers.

Having watched the first episode through the eyes of an author, I am impressed. Most people would think of Lost as a plot driven show. People are stranded on an island with some really freaky stuff going on. Even I knew that, and I hadn’t seen a single episode until last week. But where do we start the show? Through the eyes of a doctor who I assume will be the protagonist. He wakes up disoriented in the middle of a jungle. He runs out of the jungle to find a beach filled with burning plane parts and crash survivors. For the next third of the show. We meet different characters through a series of action scenes. The pregnant woman. The mysterious couple who are only looking out for themselves. The slow-witted but nice guy. The aging musician. The helpful lifeguard and his snotty girlfriend. The love interest. The man with his son.

We get to see just enough of each charter to place them and generate some interest without getting completely confused. In fact the writer goes out of his or her way to not introduce very many names very early. I love that the protagonist is out there saving everyone, and it’s not until he feels things are under some control that we learn how bad his injury is. Authors take note here. We didn’t see the plane crash at first. We didn’t know exactly what was going on. We started in the middle of the scene and expanded from there. The very fact that we didn’t know what was going on kept our attention. Next, we focused on characters. If we don’t know who to care about, we won’t care. But we did it through action scenes that were showing us who the characters were, not telling us.

Not until we knew the basic cast (with plenty of other players we will meet later I assume) did we see something huge moving through the jungle actually knocking down trees. Yes, the show is about weird stuff going on, but it only matters because we care about the people the weird stuff is happening to. Finally, once we knew the cast and saw that something weird was going on, we sent the protagonist and the protagonist’s love interest into the jungle. By separating them, we can focus on who the writer wants us to focus on.

I’ll watch more this week and let you know what I think, so if you are a big Lost fan, don’t tell me how full of it I am because this or that happens in the next episode. But feel free to tell me what your reaction to the first episode was. Or if you are not a fan yet either, hope over to Hulu and watch it on-line with me.


I promised last week I would post the first two chapters of Land Keep. So here they are. I considered telling you why I started the way I did, just like I reviewed the beginning of Lost. But I think I will let you give me your feedback, before I tell you why I did what I did. Enjoy!

(Click on the fullscreen button to make the document more readable)

Farworld Land Keep, first two chapters

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Last Time We'll Ever...

by Sariah S. Wilson

Last weekend we went with my youngest brother through the temple for his endowment. (He left this morning for the MTC.) Being the oldest, I thought of all the other endowment sessions I'd been through with my siblings and my parents. I realized that it was probably the last time I would be able to do so.

Because my parents moved.

This was due to the current recession. My mother's been out of work for eight months, and my father works in a very unstable position. I imagine this is not how they thought their lives would turn out.

My parents have always been a great example to me that the heavens are not a cosmic vending machine. You don't put in your quarters (keep a commandment) and get back a Snickers bar (or a specific blessing). Sometimes you get the Snickers. Sometimes it's a Milky Way instead. Or it might be a soy/tofu bar, because even though you really want a Snickers, what you need is an organic treat. And sometimes the machine seems stuck and no matter how hard you bang on it, the candy bar doesn't fall.

Oftentimes in church we hear stories about people keeping a commandment and the amazing blessing they received as a result. Like the washing machine breaks and they can either pay their tithing or fix the washing machine, and they choose to pay their tithing Then the money to fix the washing machine suddenly appears either from an inheritance or a forgotten loan or just shows up anonymously through the mail.

This never happened to my parents. They would make the right choice, and not only did the money not appear for the washing machine, but then the brakes went out on the car.

My father worked at a large company for 19 years. He was a good, loyal, hardworking employee. His company merged with another, and his job was given to his equivalent from the other company. The women in his department where he was manager cried when they found out he'd been let go. He was older and in a very specific job in a very specific industry.

Things have been tough ever since. When my brother Adam went on his mission, everyone assured my parents that things would turn around. We heard a lot of “When my son went on his mission, our business boomed!” or they were given huge raises or unheard of bonuses – basically that they financially prospered by sending their sons out to the mission field.

The day my dad took Adam to the MTC, he got a phone call telling him he'd lost his new job.

The one constant was my mother's job in the office of a manufacturing company. In January she was downsized and despite her constant diligence and exceptional skills and talents, she still hasn't found a replacement position.

As a result of all this financial turmoil, they have moved to Utah to live with my sister (she lives alone in her own house).

I knew they had to go. I knew there was no other way for them to be okay. Things weren't getting better, and they had no hope or promise that they would get better.

As I've mentioned before, growing up I had no relationship with my extended family. We lived far away from most of our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I remember the few get-togethers we had were so awkward when they encouraged us to play with our cousins, who were essentially strangers to us. We've never had a relationship with them. Even now, at my sister's wedding in Nauvoo, I rode up the elevator with a cousin that I hadn't seen since I was four years old. I didn't even know who she was and didn't recognize her.

I didn't want that for my children. I wanted them to be close to their relatives. I wanted them to really love their grandma and grandpa. So we moved to Ohio after we got married so that could happen.

I have loved watching my kids grow up knowing and having a relationship with my family. I am grateful for the ten years we've had.

But it just doesn't feel like enough.

When I knew they were moving, everything took on a new sense of desperation and anxiety, a realization that THIS WAS IT – this would be the last time we ever did these things together. Even if we go visit them in Utah or they come back to visit in Ohio, things will never be the same. When my dad came over to build shelves, I really encouraged my sons to go help him, thinking the whole time that this was the last time they could help him with a project, and I wanted them to have that memory. Everything started to have this “last time, last time,” feeling to it.

At my oldest son's birthday I thought about how it would be the last time we'd all be together for one of my kids' birthday parties. At church last Sunday I thought of how it would be the last time I would see my father on the stand conducting, and have my mom behind me to hold and love my babies.

I know that my relationship with them will be unaltered. It will be different not having them here, but my heart aches for my children who adore their family.

At dinner last night, knowing it to be the last time we would eat together as a family for a long time to come, I thought of all the things I had anticipated they would be here for that they wouldn't now.

Like the first time my oldest passes the Sacrament. Or that his grandpa and uncles won't be here to help ordain him to the Aaronic priesthood.

That they won't be here for the second son's baptism.

Or that they won't be here the first time my daughter sings in a Primary program.

And that they won't be here for the baby's anything.

We will Skype and do our best to keep in contact. But I know it won't be the same. My daughter won't get to nestle against her grandma, lay her tiny head on her shoulder and say, “I love you too, Grandma!”

I worry that my kids will forget.

It made me think how often things in our life may be the last time we'll ever do something without even knowing that it is the last time. I feel grateful that I knew this was coming, so that we could enjoy and appreciate the moments leading up to the end.

Things will be different for them than it will be for me. My parents are going to a place that is full of other children and grandchildren, siblings and in-laws. I know that they will miss us, that they will always miss us and wish we were there. But there will be other people to help fill in that hole for them. But we won't have anything on our end like that.

And as a writer I have to appreciate the irony of being in the exact position that I never wanted to be in.

It will be hard. But we will be okay.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Complicated Chaos

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Things are a little chaotic at my house lately. School starts next week and I have six children ranging from college age to first grade that will be going. So, as a mother, I am offering advice from which apartments look livable to which Spiderman lunchbox is the best looking. That is one thing about being a mother of a large family---it’s never boring.

I am dreading back to school as much as I am anticipating it. I love being home with the kids, with no set schedule, working and playing together. But, at the same time, I love when school is in session and there is a set schedule for working and playing together. I get a lot more writing done, generally, and the house stays cleaner for at least four to six hours longer than in the summertime.

This year, however, I have a one year old, and I know my writing schedule will be nonexistent. I’ve dealt with this before, but the thing is, I’m having so many ideas come to me, I don’t have the time to write them all down. I’ve gotten out my usual solutions to this problem like: having my notebook with me to scribble down ideas as they come, using my computer time wisely and not checking my email or Facebook until I’ve written down the scenes and characters that have come to me, and I’ve even given up a bit of time with my husband in the evenings to write a scene or two. But with so many ideas and a small amount of time, sometimes it doesn’t seem to be enough.

Time is a wonderful gift and using it wisely is sometimes very difficult for me. For instance, I know some of you early risers out there would probably tell me to just get up early in the morning to write. For me, I could probably wake up earlier to write, but spending my time sleeping after being up with a baby who is getting molars is more important to me right now so I’m not grumpy all day. Or maybe I could buy myself a laptop or Alpha Neo or whatever and draft at the pool or in the car or something. But making memories while swimming with the kids, or having them be a captivated audience in the car while we wait for a sibling and I can talk to them about their goals and dreams is more important to me right now.

But I need to find that balance.

My edits call to me in the night when ideas come for a certain scene or character and it needs to be written down. I’ve also thought of an idea for a non-fiction book, which I think could really help people, and I’ve had an idea for a national title, but I’m nervous about writing that. I’ve never been one to dream of a national title, but I’ve cheered my author friends on as they’ve pursued their national dream. I’ve watched the struggle that it is, and wondered why anyone would do that. But then, this idea came to me for a series that would be amazing, I think, but there are no LDS elements. So should I try to go national with it? Or just try to add LDS elements and stay in the market that I know?

Since my writing time is so limited, I know I need to prioritize my projects, but that’s where I’m having difficulty. I’m very careful with my writing and my family time, and I don’t want to miss out on anything. I love being a mom, seeing the world through my children's eyes and experiencing everything this world has to offer with them. I also love writing and creating and feeling like I’m developing the talents that I have. I like being able to show my children that when you work on your talents, when you have something that you love, that makes you feel good about yourself, you can enrich not only your life, but the lives of those around you. And I think I’m a better mom for trying. Most days.

One thing is for sure, from Spiderman to apartments to balancing writing and motherhood, life is colorful, complicated, and never, ever, boring.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Vacation Heaven

by Stephanie Black

Big thanks to Jordan McCollum for last week’s fantastic guest blog. I was at a family reunion, having an absolute blast. This was me all week:

Note the cheerful smile and the soggy state of being. Ahhh. We spent the week at a lake in Tennessee, swimming, tubing, jet skiing, kayaking, fishing (not me--fishing is for crazy people who like to get up early and pursue creatures that can be caught much more easily in the frozen food section at Costco), and enjoying being with family. I love this lake--clear green water, warm enough so you can just relax and float around without freezing. It's one of my favorite spots on earth.

Here are my daughter and me, having fun tubing behind the jet ski. Tubing is my favorite water sport. Tubing is my only water sport. I tried kneeboarding again this year, but couldn’t do it. Too weak and wimpy and uncoordinated. Water sports haven't ever been my thing. I tried water skiing a few times as a teenager, but sending my body pinwheeling into a lake at speeds normally only reached by motorized vehicles didn't turn out to be my hobby of choice. Maybe I would have liked it better if I'd ever gotten good enough to stay up for a significant lenghth of time, but even after I learned to get up, I knew I was going to tumble into the water sooner or later, and it might hurt, and one of these times I might really hurt myself. Eventually I figured the heck with this. But I can tube because it involves no skill. You just sit in the tube and hang on like crazy. I do make a policy of not tubing behind drivers who actively try to kill their riders. I like staying in the tube when I ride.

Random tube trivia: the tube I was riding was named the Surf Savage. This would be a good nickname for Jeff, if he ever decides to ride the waves. My daughter was riding in the Airhead, a title which doesn’t apply to her very well. She’s fifteen years old and reads Dostoevsky for fun.

Another source of entertainment at the reunion was the rope swing. You climb up on platform, sit on the swing and wheeeeeeeeee!!!!--you swoop down the hill, out over the lake and back up again. I did ride the swing—I get courage points for that, right?—but unlike my husband and several of my children, I elected to stay on the swing for the whole ride. Some people liked to jump. The key was to land on your feet in the water. Not on your back (ouch) or your belly (ouch). I thought I might try jumping, until I was up on that swing about a million feet above the water and decided forget it. I was afraid I’d land wrong, jump when the water was too shallow (unlikely—the lake gets deep very close to the shore, but I'm paranoid). So I left the jumping to braver souls, like my nine-year-old son and remained in my chickenhood. Note to self: cancel sky-diving lessons.

But despite chronic chickenhood, I do occasionally write a book and throw it out there, risking whatever comments people want to post on Goodreads. Methods of Madness is now in bookstores. Here I am--with my hair combed this time--happily holding my new book. While my outfit doesn't match my book cover this time, note that the bush behind me is quite coordinated with the green lettering. Groovy, eh?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fatty Fatty Fat Fat

by Robison Wells

I've been thinking a lot about dieting lately. This is because I don't want to diet, so if I think about it in a really constructive way--How would I do it? What would I eat? How many marathons would I run on the first day?--then I can pretend that I'm actually planning for it rather than putting it off.

I'm not a big fan of dieting. Yes, I like being healthy and not dying of heart disease, but both of those things can be accomplished without becoming one of those annoying people who blog about the evilness of high fructose corn syrup. I have a friend who used to talk about things and be interesting, and then he started competitive biking and now every communication from him relates to his morning's ride. And let me tell you, that ceased to be interesting a long time ago.

To me, dieting is like cutting coupons: yes, I want to save money, but I don't want to think about shopping any longer than I have to. I go to the store, I look for the thing with the cheapest price, and I buy it. Likewise, I go to the fridge try not to engorge myself on butter, and that's good enough.

(I mean no offense to people who cut coupons and bike all the time. Good for them. Those things are perfectly reasonable hobbies. My point is that I already have other hobbies, and I don't wish for exercise to become one of them. I don't want to be healthy because jogging is fun; I just want to be healthy so I don't die before I can watch all the reruns of Gomer Pyle, USMC.)

"But Rob," you say, "if not obsessing about dieting actually is good enough, then why are you such a big tub of spongey lard?" The answer: because I currently do engorge myself on butter. I mean, Coke for breakfast is pretty standard for me, and, as any self-respecting Coke afficianado knows, Diet Coke just doesn't compliment a plate of eggs and bacon--it has to be real Coke.

So, the diet that I'm starting is this: Eat Less. Move Around More. It's crazy, I know, but so crazy that it just might work. And, unlike my previous diet and exercise attempts (which usually fizzle out shortly after I remember how much I dislike having to leave my comfy chair), this one will also have some small amount of accountability attached: fellow LDS author Tristi Pinkston has gathered a group of fat people to blog about their weight loss, and I am one of the distinguished fatties. I will be posting there every single day, starting yesterday, discussing how I'm not really dieting like I ought to be. For example, just this morning I posted about how yesterday, Day One of the diet, included a meal of macaroni and cheese and Oreos. So, we're in for some fun.

And the good news is that I'm writing about it over there so that I never have to mention it again here ever. Then, when you see me a year from now, and I look exactly the same then as I do now, maybe you'll have forgotten that I once tried some misguided attempt at weight loss, and you won't view me as a failure. (Well, as a failure at weight loss.)

You can follow Rob on Twitter. Seriously, you can.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Take that, Rob Wells!

The problem with sharing a blog with inspiring, funny, talented, people is that you really have to dig to find your niche. I know, I’ll blog about LDSBA. Yeah, right. How do I compete with pictures of Annette Lyon passed out in the lobby in a drunken stupor? Maybe I’ll be the guy who knows how to make amazing parade floats. Taken. Maybe I can talk about using coupons to finance an entire house. Nope. Maybe I can line up cool guest bloggers? Maybe I can talk about why Canada really is a country? Maybe I can make my outfits match my book covers? You see my problem?

When you have your own blog you only have to write something slightly funny and compared to your normal stuff it’s hilarious. If you throw in a few words like loyalty and grit, and maybe include a picture of a flag or Albert Einstein, you’re inspirational. Mention ketchup chips and everyone thinks you’re hip on international cuisine.

I know what you’re thinking, at least you can write about your books. Nope. Rob even beat me to that—complete with pithy covers. Ahh, but I do have one last card up my sleeve. On my personal blog,, I blogged last Friday about the inside illustrations for Land Keep. If you haven’t seen them, you should drop by. Brandon Dorman is a total stud. It’s worth writing the books just to see what he does with the art. But here at the frog blog I am debuting the new cover for Land Keep. Let’s see Wells beat that!

This is the front cover. That's right pigs fly in this book!

And this is the artwork that will wrap all the way around back!

So what do you think? Does it beat Swamp Keep? Cry your eyes out Rob Wells!

(Contest update. If you commented on the blog when I did the contest for Shandra and Land Keep and e-mailed me about getting a copy e-mailed to you, I haven’t forgotten. Lisa promised me that tomorrow I will have the final Land Keep PDF to send out to you. Shandra is undergoing a couple of last minute revisions and I will also get those out this week.)

I Didn't Forget

My brother went through the temple this past weekend for the first time (and out here it is a six hour endeavor to go to an endowment session) and we've had family and parties and dinners and I didn't forget that I was supposed to post - just between the busyness and exhaustion I didn't get a chance. But I promise to make it up next Saturday - it will be the day my extended family leaves Ohio and moves to Utah.

P.S. - For those in the Salt Lake area, keep an eye out for Elder Salisbury. He'll be the tall, good-looking, awesomest-missionary-ever one.

Friday, August 07, 2009

How You Know You're a Writer (or Senile, or Me) -- Guest Blog by Julia Polakoff

posted by Kerry Blair

You can find great stuff on Facebook -- assuming you "friend" the right people. A couple of weeks ago I marveled (and laughed out loud) at a charming post by fellow ANWA-ite, Julia Polakoff. I first met Julia at an ANWA conference where she was the first of a roomful of people to volunteer to help with my presentation. She was thirteen at the time and so bright, vivacious, and fun that I didn't even mind when she stole the show. I've been a big J. Polakoff fan ever since.

Julia is now fourteen, a sophomore at Gilbert High School in Arizona, and one of the most personable and talented young writers you'd ever hope to meet. Her current goal is to be published by the time she's sixteen, and I won't be a bit surprised when she makes it! Chronicling the journey toward her dream, she wrote "How You Know You're a Writer . . ." as a post on Facebook. After a little begging, she agreed to let me use it here as a guest blog. Julia would love to receive any additional symptoms of writeritis you've observed in yourself or loved ones!

How You Know You're a Writer (or Senile, Or Me) by Julia Polakoff
1) You hear voices in your head and they tell you about their lives at ALL times of day or night. IE, during prayer, before bed, in your sleep, at work, when you’re cleaning, etc.

2) You hear the characters yell at you for not writing their story down and the computer or pen/pencil and paper call out to you regularly

3) When someone asks "How was your day?" you respond with "Oh, I just killed somebody and am trying to figure out if there is a better way." Or something just as out there.

4) Whenever you read something you always, or almost always, find the writer's mistakes and obsess about changing them or you think "Wow, the editors musta been typing too fast"

5) You start describing everything you see with a writer's voice in your head

6) You find your diet is ruined every time time you sit down to write. (Diet? What diet? A writer's gotta have a good supply of food to write!)

7) You take note of others' qualities and think "I wonder if I can use that somehow"

8) Your house could use cleaning, your laundry is piling, your family is starving (or you are starving since you ran out of food a few hours back), and the shopping needs done, and you still refuse to give it up until you're "done". Whatever that means.

9) You start analyzing movie and book plots and wonder "what if . . ."

10) You use the names of characters when you're talking to or about your friends and family.

11) You know you're a writer if you have created "character labels" for all your friends and family and YOURSELF.

12) You characters actually argue with each other about whose story is being written next.

13) Your characters (from the SAME story) argue with each other about points in the story (such as who likes who or who did what and when) and who gets to get the spotlight next (if you switch views in your story).

14) Your characters take over your story, even after you've carefully plotted it out

15) When you stop in the middle of something "important", seized with that urge, and you run to your writing, leaving whatever it was in the same spot for hours

16) You laugh, nod, or smile sadly when you read this because some, if not all, is true. =)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

In Defense of Omelets

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I got my edits back for my book that's coming out in the spring. I skimmed through the comments first, just getting a feel for things and then I dug in. I think my editor did a great job, but there was one comment that made my jaw drop.

She said, "Omelets aren't romantic food."

What? Omelets aren't romantic food? As much as I love my editor, I think omelets are definitely romantic food. Is there any food that couldn't be a romantic food, really? Especially if you are in a safehouse, being followed by terrorists and you have just enough time to make one last dinner. You haven't eaten in thirty-six hours, and you're exhausted, so you look in the safehouse fridge and all there is to eat is eggs, peppers and cheese. So the hero chops the veggies, the heroine whips the eggs, they try to forget for a moment the danger and the hurt, so they smile a little, banter a little, and voila! our duo is sitting down to their last dinner in a fairly good mood considering. (It may or may not be a romantic mood since apparently omelets are not romantic food and you cannot have romance if you are having omelets. Perhaps a nice quiche?)

I decided to google what is considered romantic food. Several results came up, including oysters, strawberries, asparagus, almonds, chocolate, bananas, and tossed salad with lots of garlic croutons, or just plain garlic itself (seriously!). So I was thinking, if I really wanted this dinner to be romantic, I should have a few of these things in the safehouse fridge. Maybe they could whip up some chocolate strawberries, throw in some garlic and asparagus and finish off with oysters and bananas, and wash it down with chilled sparkling cider. However, my hero would probably throw up and then THAT wouldn’t be considered romantic. So now I don’t know what to do. I thought about changing the menu to chicken or fish, but the things that would be in a safehouse fridge are probably limited and they are on a pretty strict time frame. They can’t be lollygagging around defrosting chicken and hoping that the terrorists don’t find them before the grillin’s done if you know what I mean. *sigh* A writer’s work is never done.

It’s not exactly a romantic dinner anyway, it’s more of a planning dinner so they don’t die, of starvation or otherwise, but there is a near kiss since, hey, if you’re going to die and you have one last dinner with a beautiful woman who is a smart capable foreign intelligence agent, wouldn’t you think about kissing her? And is anyone thinking of food at this point anyway, romantic or not, when death is on the line?

So I am turning my dilemma to you, dear reader. Should I change what my main characters are eating for their final dinner to make it more romantic food or just leave it as is since there is only a hint of romance anyway? If I did change it, what could I feasibly change it to? Do you think omelets are romantic food? Why or why not?

And my real reason for writing this blog: If you are an omelet lover, do you feel cheated that it’s not on the exclusive list of romantic foods? I know I do. Perhaps we should band together to improve the omelet’s image.

Rev Up the Romance with Omelets

Ooh Over Omelets

The Ultimate Romance Starts with Omelets

Edward Loves Omelets

Get Equally Yolked With Omelets

Omelets Answer the Age Old Question: To Be or Not to Be

Don’t Have Egg on Your Face! Make Omelets!

The possibilities are endless!

Omelet Lovers Unite!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

LDS Bookseller's Association Recap and Photo Blog

by J. Scott Savage (not really)

As I said on Monday, I've been at the LDSBA Convention all week. And let me tell you--it's been great. I've met a lot of wonderful people and they've met a lot of wonderful me.

I'm selling three books there this year. I know! I can hardly believe it myself. I'm much more prolific than other authors I could name.

The first book is my much-anticipated LDS horror novel, Brother Brigham's Ghoul. The basic story is this: there's Brother Brigham, and he's got this ghoul. It pretty much wrote itself.

The second book is the much-anticipated third installment of the Shandra Covington series. I don't want to talk about it too much--I don't want to give away any spoilers!--but here's a tantalizing teaser: Bobby, now long dead, left Shandra one million dollars in his will. But there's a catch! To get the money, she has to spend the night in the spooky old haunted house (and fill out some paperwork). (Can she get it notarized before the deadline!?!?)

The third book is the latest Farworld novel, Farworld: Swamp Keep. What's that you ask? Why is there a leprechaun in a swamp? Sounds to me like someone needs to read the book!

So, here are a few pictures chronicling my experience at LDSBA, hobnobbing with the glittering literati.

The day started off with sushi. I made all of it myself, having practiced for months. Unfortunately, all the friends I invited couldn't make it. They were so busy, in fact, that they didn't even have time to call and say they couldn't come. Like I said, it's pretty busy at LDSBA.

I had a booksigning at noon, and was excited to see the crowd of people waiting. Turns out they were waiting for the Stephanie Black signing two booths over.

However, there still was a line waiting for me. (My friend is the warden, and I called in a favor.)

Here's a picture of my wife, Jen, discovering that Annette Lyon had fallen fast asleep. Little-known fact about Annette: Narcolepsy.

Here's a picture of James Dashner shoplifting a book. Little-known fact about James: kleptomania. (Notice how he's not even trying to hide it. Another little-known fact about James Dashner: desperate for attention, even if it's only from the cops.)

Here's a picture of Rob Wells on the phone, talking to someone very important. Little-known fact about Rob: he's brilliant and handsome. (Just kidding! That's widely-known.)

The dinner table at the restaurant. No one has come yet, but, like I said, they're very busy people. And I'm beginning to wonder if there was a problem with my Evite.

They asked me to remove my books from the booth. They're so touchy! All I said was that I could write Gerald Lund under the table with one hand tied behind my back. (And I called Dean Hughes a hack.) Haven't these guys ever heard of good-natured ribbing? It was all in fun!

The hospital. Like I said, they're so touchy. Lund, Hughes, and Weyland were all waiting behind the convention center. Uh, brass knuckles are illegal, Jack!