Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Few Pics

by Stephanie Black

I had a great time in Utah last week. The Book Academy conference was a lot of fun. I enjoyed teaching my villain class, and the class members provided awesome comments that really added to the class. And as always, it was great to hang out with a bunch of writers. I was delighted that for both of Saturday's book signings, I was scheduled with another author. The difference between signing with another author and signing alone is night and day. With another author, it's a blast.

It was also fun to hang out with my BYU-student daughter. I took her grocery shopping, we went to lunch, we wandered around campus and took pictures, and I got to attend her ward on Sunday--she has church in the MARB, which is where I had church my freshman year. Awww. Things have changed a lot on campus since I was there, both in the appearance of campus (new buildings, etc.) and, apparently, in what the wards are up to. As I sat there in Relief Society and they were making announcements, a member of the activities committee asked, “How many of you have been assassinated?” Several sisters—apparently the ward’s resident undead—raised their hands. “If you haven’t assassinated anyone, now would be a good time,” she continued (well, not exactly now—no assassinations allowed on Sunday). Wow. In my day, we were just counseled to get our visiting teaching done. Two of my daughter’s roommates have already been offed, one by the bishop—a very sneaky hit, as no one knew he was playing. I like the bishop. He greeted me with “You must be Amy’s sister," which earned him big points from me.

I also got to attend an open house celebrating my grandfather's 90th birthday. How cool is that?

Here are a few pictures. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures at the conference—it’s just like me to carry my camera around all day and not use it (And Amy, if you’re reading this, can you send me the pictures you took at the dinner?).

Here I am with Jordan McCollum. Jordan is almost ready to submit her first novel. I can't wait to read it!

Here's proof that I actually signed at least one book at my signings--or was the photo staged? You decide.

Here I am with Jon Spell. Jon brought me watermelon and juicy pear Jelly Bellies--isn't that awesome?

Here I am with author Michele Paige Holmes. It was great to see Michele again. Michele's new book, All the Stars in Heaven, was released this year. I enjoyed her first book, the Whitney Award-winning Counting Stars, and am looking forward to reading her new one.

Here I am with author Becca Wilhite. It was delightful signing with her. Becca is holding Jordan's daughter, who loved the chocolate truffles on the table. While we were sitting there, my daughter picked up Becca's novel, Bright Blue Miracle, and started reading. She was hooked. And my daughter is a very tough critic, so you know it's gotta be good.

And here is my daughter and her boyfriend who, as you can see, is large in stature, but hasn't read the BYU dress code very closely.

It was a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Can Ramble More Than Jeff Can

by Robison Wells

Jeff blogged yesterday, which I guess means that I have to actually post something today. Dang him.

However, following in his footsteps, I'm going to talk about a few shows that I've been watching, some computer-related issues, and then I'll ramble for a bit and quote a big section of my book. This blog will be non-cohesive and bulleted for reasons that I will explain with the first bullet.

  • I love me some Twitter. I was a little late to the game, not joining until this June, but I adore it. It's ideal for my kind of blogging: I never have much to say, so when I blog here on Tuesdays I have to take a couple little thoughts and stretch them into something big and bloated. But, on Twitter I can just spit out my quick little comments without all the fluff.

    The downside is that (as you'll notice from recent blogs) Twitter has ruined me. So, even now that I'm not restricted in word count, I have blogging ADD. Hence the bullets. Therefore: on to the next bullet.

  • Yesterday Jeff mentioned Mozy as a potential back-up program. I was recently pointed a different direction, and I'm in love with it. It's DropBox. The basic gist is you download it onto all your computers, and it looks like a regular folder on your desktop (or in your documents, or wherever you want to put it). But when you add things to that folder, they're not only saved online, they're instantly and automatically put into the Dropbox folder on all your other computers! So, if you are working on a laptop or at work, and then you want access the same documents at home, you just save it in your Dropbox (which is exactly as easy as saving it anywhere else), and WHOOMP! There it is.

    Now, unlike Mozy, DropBox is not designed to back up everything on your computer. However, also unlike Mozy, DropBox is FREE. You can store up to two GBs.

  • I was given a copy of The Complete Novel Plotting Workbook, by Weston Elliott, and I have to say that it's pretty handy. The book is nothing but a hundred pages of forms and worksheets, all designed to help you develop your story. The first section begins with WorldBuilding, and asks you to fill out information on all sorts of subjects: settings, topography, government, religion, magic, architecture. (Obviously, this section would be a little more relevant to setting-heavy genres, such as speculative or historical.) There are also pages for creating maps, and a ready-to-go character bible where you can fill out all sorts of info about each and every character in your story.

    The second half of the book is less worldbuilding and more plotbuilding. There is a large section for developing conflict, and then space for timelines and even a chapter-by-chapter outline. And, at the back, charts for tracking your progress and, eventually, your submissions to agents and editors. It's a very cool little book.

    I look forward to using this for later books. (Unfortunately, by the time I received it in the mail I had already created much of this stuff on my own for my current novel.) The real benefit from this type of book, I think, is in the brainstorming phase of writing: with all the detail in the book, it prompts you to ask questions that you might not have thought of before, and maybe you'll hit on some interesting new ideas. And, if you fill out all the worksheets, your world can't help but be fairly-well fleshed out. (This book should appeal even more to new writers who haven't gone through these processes before. It would be invaluable to someone who wants to write but doesn't know where to start.)

    My only wish is that there was an electronic version. While I know there are many people who still use pens and pencils (as archaic as they are) I don't think very well without a keyboard in front of me. Still, I look forward to trying this out later.

  • On a completely different topic, I've been watching me some television. My thoughts about the new fall shows are these:
    • The Office has been surprisingly disappointing. I don't think there have been ANY real belly-laugh moments in the first two episodes. It's amusing, but off. Hopefully it will get better.

    • Community had a weak start, but the second episode was great. I have a hunch that this will be my new favorite comedy.

    • Modern Family is screwy. It's like a couple of moderately-talented sitcom writers decided to do Arrested Development fanfic. There are moments of absolute hilarity (like all the stuff with the dad shooting his son with a BB gun as punishment) but much of the rest falls a little flat. And, holy crap, it ended with a non-ironic group hug. I thought that we, as a society, had moved past that kind of sentimental sitcom nonsense.

    • FlashForward has the potential to either be pretty okay, or really really crappy. The gist is this: everyone on the entire planet loses consciousness for two minutes, and they have visions of exactly what they'll be doing six months from now. The pilot reminded me a bit of the first season of Heroes, setting itself up for long-term storytelling, building toward the season finale to answer everything. Here are the problems: (1) for the most part, none of the future visions are really that exciting. We'll be building all season to nothing particularly interesing. At least Heroes was building toward a nuclear explosion. Here, on the other hand, are a few of the FlashForward visions: "I'm at work and I'm in danger!" "I'm reading the newspaper!" "I'm cheating on my husband!" "I'm in a meeting!" They'd better step up the tension a bit, methinks. (2) the fact that they completely glossed over the deaths of hundreds of millions of people--as they lost consciousness while driving, or while swimming, or whatever--indicates that the show doesn't really care about the details. By the end of that first day (when, again, MILLIONS of people died, fires ravaged the city, etc) one of the main character FBI agents was surfing the net, planning his wedding. For that matter, once the FBI agents got back to the office, the show decided that the world was completely back to normal. There were no late hours that night for either the cop or the ER doc. WHAT?

    • My favorite new show is on the military channel: Special Ops Mission. It's a reality show/game show of sorts: they take an experienced Army Ranger, give him a high-tech paintball gun, and give him some bad guys to shoot (who are also ex-military guys with paintball guns of their own). It's exceptionally rad.

    • As for Heroes, my wife and I were holdouts. Even when all our friends have given up on it, we kept with it, hoping it would eventually redeem itself. We gave up at the end of last season (we didn't bother watching the final two episodes). I haven't given it a try this year.

  • As I've mentioned, my new book is now in its third draft, and I've started getting a little bit of reader feedback. The general consensus: it needs to be grittier. My mom (and my writing group) told me I need to swear more. (Don't worry: it'll still be all PG. Well, PG-13 for violence, probably, but PG for swearing. I'm too sweet and innocent to know any really bad words.) (My mom, on the other hand...)

  • Tomorrow the high temperature is in the fifties, and there's a possibility of a dusting of snow in the valley on Thursday. This is because Mother Nature loves me. Man, I'm so ready for crappy summer to be over.

  • Erin and I got The Manchurian Candidate (1962) from NetFlix this week. It is such an awesome movie. In particular, I'm amazed at how current it feels. Even though it's black and white, the subject matter and the writing are every bit as applicable to modern politics as they were to McCarthyism (Iselinism in the movie). One of my favorite things about the movie is that, while telling an awesome political story, it never really comes to a pointed conclusion: yes, it shows us how terrible the McCarthy-style communist witchhunts were, but at the same time it shows that the communists were plotting to take over the country. Also, they leave several enticing clues about a possible mystery that they never conclude; one of my favorite parts of the movie is watching for this strange undercurrent--deeply involving the main character--that is never even addressed, let alone resolved. Everything about this movie is awesome: the wacky dialogue, the tight plot, the innovative visuals, Angela Lansbury as a crazed incestuous mother. Go and rent it.

  • I think that's all.

  • Nope! I forgot this last thing: at the UVU Book Academy last week, several people said they wanted a copy of my humor presentation, but no one has emailed me for it. If you were one of those people, leave me a message in the comments and I'll shoot it over to you.

You're hereby cordially invited to follow me on Twitter. All the cool kids are doing it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Lost Data, Lost the TV Show, and Lost Characters

First of all, I just want to say my laptop is working again. Huzzah!!! According to HP the power adaptor hasn’t shipped yet. But we’ll just keep the fact that I got it the end of last week between you and me. Let me also at this point give a big, big, nudge to anyone who doesn’t have all of their important files backed up daily. Do it. Do it now! When my laptop bit the dust I was in the middle of revisions on two books. Both of those books were past deadline. There was no way to get the files off my laptop for over two weeks. But because I had my files backed up every day, I was able to keep right on working. Ask yourself what you would do if all of your files suddenly became inaccessible this very minute—for a day, a week, a month, or forever.

I highly recommend that whatever you use to back up your files be automatic and either cheap or better yet, free. It’s too easy to forget otherwise. There are lots of solutions out there. I use Mozy. You can get 2 gig for free or pay $5 per month for unlimited storage. The thing I like best about this solution is that it’s so easy. It takes about five minutes to set up and then it backs up when you computer is not in use. Easy! And if you use the link above, I get extra storage or something. Win win!

Okay, that’s my advertising pitch, (but really do back up with something starting now if you are not.) So, many of you know I have started watching Lost. Yeah, the series has been going for five years, and yeah I’m only on season one, but I hate watching a series and getting left hanging when the network cancels it halfway through the first year. So anyway, I just finished season one. My grade? B+. (Better than Rob, not as good as Kerry! Just kidding Rob. Kind of. ) In general, I am impressed with the series. I thought it was going to be X-files meets Survivor. While there is some of that, I am really impressed with how much characterization takes place. With as many “main” characters as there are, I feel like I know all of them well enough to care, without a lot of over lapping or “seen that” moments.

Of course, I still feel like there are too many moments that are made weird or left hanging (the numbers, the polar bears, the security system that seems like a monster, the magical healings) just to make the viewer go “Whoa!” But that’s part of network TV. There’s always a little too much soap opera for me. The thing about books and movies is that the is a clear beginning and end. A TV series can just keep milking it without giving the viewer any real closure. But the strength of the characters has definitely pulled me in.

Which brings me to my final point today. Don’t go with your first thought when you are making up characters. Ask yourself questions. Find the character behind the character. Give the minor characters a chance to grow. Often we focus on the “story” to the exclusion of the character. This is the story of a police detective who finds out that someone has stolen the Mona Lisa. Okay, so far so good. But then we concentrate on who stole the painting. We throw in red herrings. We offer clues. All the while, the detective is just a detective. The reporter is just a reporter. The housewife is just a housewife. And at the end of the day, the reader goes, “Meh. The story was okay, but I didn’t care about the characters.” It’s not that we can’t write good characters. It’s that we settle for stereotypes because we are focusing on the plot. Forgetting that if the story is the forest, the characters are the trees. If you create interesting and unusual trees, the forest will build itself.

For example, let’s say you have a main character who is a single. What are the typical reasons she might be single. Husband died. Never married. Divorced. Yeah, that about covers it. So we go with divorced. Why? Husband cheated. Husband was gone all the time. Husband was boring. Do any of these excite you? Do they sound new or original? Maybe you really stretch it and the husband, “mysteriously disappeared.” Wow, groundbreaking! Why do we settle for these, because we aren’t focusing on character. It’s simply a placeholder in the grander scheme of who-done-it.

But what if we took as much time with characters as we did with story? What if the heroine is divorced because she views men as weapons? Tools to be used to help her climb the corporate ladder and then tossed aside. What if she tried to do the same thing with the next man in line only he turns the tables on her? Now I am not suggesting this is the main storyline. I am suggesting that it is a single character in the rest of the story. It is the cumin in an already exciting main course. It is the twist that raises your story to a new level. Going back to Lost, I expected a story that was all plot. But what really made things hum, was the depth of each of the characters. That’s why probably half of the first season was showing us who everyone was.

In my second Farworld book, I knew Marcus and Kyja would meet a man who would send them on a variety of quests. I didn’t know much about the man—or even if he would be a man. But instead of making the character take a back seat to story, I let him reveal his true self before I started writing. Mr. Z, as he introduced himself to me, was not what I expected at all. As a result, he became an integral not only of this book, but I expect books to come. Here’s a little snippet to show you what I mean.

“Quiet, you two,” said a squeaky voice. “Things are about to begin.”

Two large piles of books slid aside on the desk, and Kyja found herself looking at a tiny man with a blob of a nose and enormous red ears. The man was wearing a pair of gold-framed glasses too big for his face, a long, black coat, and a battered felt hat that looked dangerously close to falling off his head. He perched at the top of a tower of books that wobbled every time he moved.

As she watched, the man reached into the pocket of his purple vest and pulled out a horn no bigger than his pinkie. He put it to his lips and blew a surprisingly loud trumpet.

“Isn’t this exciting?” the man said, putting the horn back into his vest and clapping his hands. “Ullr the challenger is a fine specimen, fleet and strong. But the champion, Váli, is a veteran of many battles, wily and trickilicious.” Resting his chin in his hands, he set his elbows on the desk and stared at its wooden surface.

Marcus looked to Kyja, but she had no more idea than he did what was going on. Stepping carefully around the books, she and Marcus approached the desk. “What are you talking about?” she asked timidly.

“Hmm?” the man replied without looking up. “Sport, of course. Man against man. Beast against beast. Strength versus speed. Mind over muscle.”

Marcus leaned across the desk to see two brown shapes no bigger than walnuts. “Are those snails?”

“Yes, yes.” the man chirped. “Look at them go!”

Kyja glanced from one snail to the other. “They don’t seem to be moving.”

“That’s what they want you to think,” the little man said, tapping the side of his head and nearly knocking off his hat. “They’re sizing each other up, probing for weaknesses. It’s a thinking man’s sport.”

“And what sport would that be?” Marcus asked. As far as Kyja could see, the snails hadn’t moved at all. In fact, she suspected at least one of them might be dead.

“Snail jousting, of course!” the man snapped. “The sport of kings and noblemen.”

“Seriously?” Marcus leaned across the desk until the tip of his nose was almost touching the snails. “I don’t see any lances.”

“Lances?” the man leaned backward so abruptly his pile of books swayed like a tall tree in a high wind. He rubbed his glasses furiously with the sleeve of his coat and glared at Marcus as though he were crazy. “Do you have any idea what a lance would do to these beautiful shells? What do you take me for, a barbarian?”

“I thought if they were jousting . . .”

“Lances.” The man said, giving Marcus a stern shake of his head before returning to his snails.

“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble,” Kyja said. “Could you tell us who you are? I’m not sure we’re in the right place.”

“Who am I?” the man said, as though asking himself. “When most people ask who you are, they really want to know what you are. Are you famous? Are you powerful? Are you wealthy? Are you someone who can help them get what they want, do you stand in their way, or can you be dismissed out of hand?”

He looked left and right from one snail to the other as though watching an especially exciting tennis match. “Titles are quite useful that way, aren’t they? How about Commander of the Fleet? No, too forceful. Master of All Things Inconsequential and General in Nature? Too stuffy. Merciful and Benevolent Ruler? Too self-serving. High Executioner? No.” He shivered. “That won’t do. How about Her Majesty the Queen? I’ve always favored that one.”

Marcus twirled a finger beside his head, but Kyja gave him a quick elbow in the ribs.

“Actually, I was just wondering what to call you,” she said. “I’m Kyja, and this is Marcus.”

“You want a name? How unusual.” The man scratched a thatch of sparse, gray hair. This time, he actually did knock off his hat. But as it rolled from his head, he caught it with the tip of his left shoe and kicked it into the air, landing the hat right where it had been. “How about Zithspithesbazith? It’s actually quite fun to say and allows you to spit freely on whoever you say it to.”

“I don’t think I could pronounce that,” Kyja said, unable to stifle a giggle.

“No? Why don’t we stick with Z then? It has a certain letter-like quality to it.”

Of course not all of your characters will be this odd, but if you take at least as much time with your characters as you do with your story, you will find the story becomes that much stronger.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

On Moving to Utah

by Sariah S. Wilson

At this point it seems a pretty foregone conclusion that we'll be moving to Utah in the not-too-distant future.

If we stay put and stick to our game plan, we could possibly pay off our debt (student loans, cars, credit cards) in about three years. Which would free us up to move to Utah where a house similar to ours costs considerably more.

I have mixed feelings on this possible move. I know now is not the time, even though part of me wants it to be. There are so many great houses out there at reduced prices because of the recession, and because my babies are still so small I wish I could be there with all that extended family now. (I must stop my obsession with going out and looking at homes in Utah online. It's making me sad that I know I won't be able to buy any of them.)

But for now, my husband works at a company that he loves and we're doing okay. And I think this was because I was raised in a scrub desert and went to college in a desert, but I can't tell you how much I adore the seasons here in Ohio. The lush greenness is just amazing. I love all of our rain and thunderstorms. (I'm the sort of person that would probably be very happy in a place where it rained constantly.)

I love the seasons here. We actually have them. Right now as we go into fall, the walls of trees behind the houses on my cul-de-sac are starting to turn a blazing orange. Soon the other trees will turn bright reds and brilliant yellows. There are trees everywhere here and they all turn the most beautiful colors. (We even have a mini-forest in our back yard that I get to look at every day while I do dishes.)

I love the snow in the winter - sometimes we get a lot, but most years we get enough here and there. Which is good, because I think the city government where I live still can't figure out what that white stuff is falling from the sky and whether or not they should send out those salt trucks.

Spring is also fabulous - after everything being dead it bursts back to life, with bright dots of rainbow-hued color everywhere and that gorgeous lush green returning to all the plant life.

Summer I am not a fan of. Never have been, probably never will be. Particularly because it is so humid here.

And it's hard when you've spent most of your married life in one place. This is our first home. The house where I brought my babies home from the hospital. The only house my children have ever lived in. We've had the same pediatrician for the last ten years. Been in the same ward for that amount of time. I know that could all change at any moment, but it's hard to let go when you've put down your roots so deep.

On the pro side, nearly all of our family (on both sides) lives in Utah. I think it would be more helpful to writing for the LDS market if I actually lived in Utah and could really try to develop relationships with booksellers and other authors and could go to conferences and events without it costing me an arm and a leg.

We brainstormed over possible places to live if we do move there - we agreed it would need to be along that middle lane that surrounds I-15, and in between SLC and Provo (so that my husband could work either direction if he needed to). Right now I'm sort of partial to Saratoga Springs. I love the views of the lake and the mountains. I could probably give up my trees for a view like that. It'd also be nice to live somewhere that you pretty much knew you'd always have a white Christmas.

So for all you Utah residents, what do you like least about living in Utah? What do you like most?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hava Javalina Story! (Or Five)

by Kerry Blair

First, an apology. Due to circumstances not entirely beyond my control, I never saw a computer yesterday. I was, of course, sulking that I missed the conference and dinner and Stephanie's book signings. (That and throwing a dinner/theatre party at the ward for 150 of my closest friends.)

Now, the stories. Vote for your favorite, by number, in the comments trail. Everyone who votes will be entered in a drawing for a javelina magnet from the Heritage Park Zoo, an Arizona Game and Fish pamphlet, Living With Javelina (this is the response you get when you call to complain about javelina wreaking havoc in your otherwise quiet neighborhood, and a copy of Closing In -- if you haven't already found it at a thrift store for a dime. Winners will be announced next Friday. For real. I swear. Absolutely.

PS - Everybody is eligible to vote -- especially the authors of these stories -- but only one vote per person. (This means you, Anonymous.) #1
Once upon a time there was a javelina named Angelina. She was not married to another peccary named Brad, nor did she have many adopted children with said peccary. Although she did know another peccary named Brad.It was Brad the javelina (and not Brad the actor) that caused Angelina to cross the road this fine day. You see, Brad was on the left and so Angelina quite needed to be on the right--and it had nothing to do whatsoever to do with his marriage proposal. Except that it did.

Bet you didn't know that for centuries the indigenous peoples of Meso America have treated the peccary as a house pet, much like a dog (not a cat---who would want a cat as a pet?). The Peccary demonstrates all the sensibilites of a dog. Plays with the kids. Doesn't bite (excpet cats). Protector. Loyal. Chases cats up trees.Dogs (canines) were everywhere present in Lehi's Jerusalem, but not to be found in the Americas until after Book of Mormon times.Is it possible that the mention of the dog in the Book of Mormon, was actually a reference to a peccary? Pretty like yes. And to qualify for the contest: Why did the peccary cross the road? To visit Laman, of course.

Cary had just come out of his den when he noticed a peculiar smell in the air. It did not remind him of his fellow herd-mates; in fact, he had never come across this particular aroma in his life. Curious, he trotted through the scraggly brush only pausing twice to rub his tusks together to warn off a couple of stray coyotes. He soon realized that he had traveled farther from his own territory than ever before. He had been lost in musings about his quarry, which he was certain by then was some sort of delicious feast, much better than those roots and vegetables he obtained from what his fellow javelinas called "Brr Key Lair", home to those tall creatures.

He stopped at a strange path that stretched out as far as he could. Admittedly, that was not very far, but he could sense that it went far indeed. On the other side ofthe odd path was a strewn pile that resembled that which the Lair People put in hard buckets, but oh, it smelled so much better! He had only taken a couple of steps on the hard surface when a large predator appeared, with eyes that shone like the sun! It came at him fast as a desert storm emitting a loud growl. Cary's last thought was of the aromatic treasure as the car ran over him in the night.

The truck’s hood came down with a hard bang.“That’ll do her,” Cletus said as he wiped his dirty hand across his face, leaving a muddy swatch to drip down his temple instead of sweat. He limped his way back around to the driver’s seat and slid over the duct-tapped vinyl seat, grasping the steering wheel for leverage. As he twisted the ignition’s key and started the engine, he said, “Call the children.”

Without removing her bare feet from the edge of the passenger window, Flora lifted her face and yelled, “Get back in the camper, kids!”

“Heck, Flora,” Cletus said, flicking his wife on the back of the head with his fingers, “Do ya’ think they heard ya’ in Gila Bend?” He turned and stared out the windowless pass-through between the cab and the truck’s camper. “Why didn’t ya’ get out and fetch the young ‘uns?”

“Are they a commin’?”

“Uh, huh,” he said as the old truck rocked with motion. “Then I didn’t need ta.” Flora sighed. “When are we stoppin’ for the night? I’m gettin’ hungry.”

“I’d say maybe another hour or so,” Cletus said as he drove along a back road and further away from the main highway. “Then we’ll set up camp.”

“Daddy, Daddy!” Mirabelle cried as she leaned over the windowless opening next to her mother’s face. “Oscar got away, Daddy!”

Flora quickly sat up. “No, dang it!”

Cletus shook his head. “I told you, Flora. You should’a made sure ever-body got in. Now we ain’t got no darn pig for dinner.”“You were going to eat my pet?” Mirabella cried louder.

Bobby pushed his sister’s shoulder. “I’da run away too if I was gonna’ be et. I bet that pig’s miles away from here by now, hich’n a ride.”

Jock and Jerry Javelina weren't sure where they were. They had been out in the desert chasing those light skinned, two-legged creatures that kept trying to cut down their shade trees when all of the sudden their surroundings looked less familiar. What were these buildings? What was this black stuff they were walking on? What kind of animals were those across the way? They looked like they could be relatives, but not quite.

"Hey Jock, let's cross this solid black river and ask the natives for directions."

"Sounds good, Jerry."

"Yo Buddy Boy, where in the heck are we?"

"My turf and you better get off of it right now before my human comes out and sees you."

"Human? You mean those tall, stupid creatures who aren't smart enough to use all four legs?"

"Yup, and there's one of them right now. You're in big trouble. I've seen this before. He's going to call the cops and you'll be goners."

"I'm not worried. I think we'll just rest here under this bush and then try to head for home."

A few minutes later Jock and Jerry heard a loud howl coming for a very fast animal with four black feet and a red horn on his head. The creature came to a stop and regurgitated two humans waving some kind of a stick.

Boom, boom!! Jerry and Jock were no more.

This is a true story about what happens to Javelinas who cross the road on the reservation.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Home Again Home Again Jiggity Jig

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Well, I just got home from the UVU Book Academy Conference and I am exhausted. A good exhausted. It was fun to see all my friends and make some new friends. I was running around all day moderating a panel, teaching two classes, and doing a book signing. But it was an amazing conference. We had over 300 registered attendees and we were full to capacity. Some classes were standing room only for sure. The only complaint I heard was that there were too many good classes to choose from, so that people had a hard time choosing. That’s a good thing in my opinion. We had some incredible presenters, including Stephanie Black (whose class was one of the most talked about), Lisa Mangum (who had to do two sessions of her class it was so popular), Anita Stansfield (who did a great job presenting), and James Dashner (who was so funny!) to name a few. Brandon Sanderson did a panel and a keynote and Stephen Covey made a surprise appearance at his daughter’s closing keynote and spoke a bit on his writing tips. It was truly a conference I won’t forget.

One of the best things about the conference, though, was going out to dinner afterward with 4 of the frog bloggers and James Dashner, Josi Kilpack, Nichole Giles from Authors Incognito and Teresa and Cory from the League of Utah Writers. I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a while and had fun just sitting and listening to all the writing talk going on around me. Have you ever had that happen when you are surrounded by writers who talk the same language as you in characters and ideas and what you’re writing and what’s going on with publishers, and how big an advance so and so got and how marketing is taking off and what editors put in your book that was so silly and well, you get my drift. It was the perfect end to a really great day.

So I’d just like to thank everyone who came to my classes and to everyone who made me laugh today. You are awesome and I hope to see you all again soon! That was fun.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


So you know you're losing it when you wonder if there's a new post at the Frog Blog and then remember, oops, it's my day to post. Jeff may now feel free to make fun of me.

I've got about ten seconds before I need to run. I'm heading for Utah this afternoon and will be teaching at the Book Academy Conference at UVU tomorrow, so I hope to see some of you there. Come prepared to tell me about your favorite villains.

Also, I'll be doing two booksignings on Saturday, September 26th for Seagull Book's Celebrating Sisterhood event. From 10:00 to 11:30, I'll be at the Orem Seagull. From 12:00-2:00, I'll be at the American Fork Seagull. Come visit me! You'll make my day if you come say hi. I'll give you chocolate, and you don't even have to buy anything.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

2009 Whitney Awards Changes

by Robison Wells

I'm happy to announce that there have been a couple of changes to the Whitney Awards. The Whitneys have been a success in the past two years, but we're always trying to improve them, so we tweak and adjust as necessary. While I freely admit that these alterations are not perfect, I do believe that they are a step above last year's methods. (And, as always feel free to contact the Whitney Committee if you have any suggestions or comments.)

So, without further ado:

Rules Changes

  • We will no longer be announcing finalists for the two overall awards (Best Novel of the Year and Best Novel by a New Author). Here's the reasoning behind this change: there are six genre categories each with five finalists. If Best Novel of the Year only has, for example, one romance as a finalist, then a voter might thing "The judges have already told me which romance is the best." In other words, the presence of the overall finalists is kind of suggesting to voters how they should vote in the other categories. So, we won't be announcing finalists.

    Now, it's important to note that this is mostly a perception issue. In the past two years, the voting academy has voted with the Best Novel "suggestions" less than half the time. However, it is a legitimate complaint, and we decided to address it.

  • The overall awards will now be decided solely by the voting academy. When an academy member votes for Best Novel, instead of selecting from just the five Best Novel finalists, he/she can choose from any of the thirty genre finalists. Likewise, for Best Novel by a New Author, the voter can choose from any of the eligible genre finalists.

  • Voters will have to certify that they've read every book they're voting for or against. This rule might cause the most private consternation among voters, but I don't apologize for it at all. Voters will now have to check a box for each genre category that says "I certify that I have read all the finalists in this category." Of course, this also means that in order to vote for Best Novel, the voter will have to certify that they've read all thirty finalists.

    Yes, this might be viewed as kind of a big burden, but: (1) more than half the voting academy is comprised of bookstore managers who easily can make that certification, and (2) voting without having read all the books will yield inaccurate results--how can a voter really say "Book X is the best Mystery" if they've only read two of the five?

    Now, a voter doesn't have to vote in all categories. If they only have read two of the categories, they can vote in those. Our intent isn't to restrict voters; our intent is to get better results.

    (For what it's worth, we've always had this rule written in the ballots. But this is the first time that voters will have to check a box indicating that they indeed have read all the finalists. Yes, it's still the honor system, but we feel it's a good fix.)

Organization Changes

  • The new Whitney Committee is:

    • Robison Wells, President

    • Julie Coulter Bellon

    • Danyelle Ferguson

    • John Ferguson

    • Crystal Leichty

    • Jaime Theler

    • Sheila Staley

  • A note about the president: many of you were probably aware that Kerry Blair had taken over the Whitneys as president for 2009. However, due to health problems, Kerry was unable to continue in that role, and I (Rob Wells) have resumed duties as president for one more year. The Whitney Committee wishes Kerry the very best.

As a sidenote, we have currently received several hundred nominations, and forty three books have enough nominations to move on to the judging panels. However, many great books do not have enough reader nominations yet. Go to the Whitney Awards website and nominate your favorites--don't assume someone else has already done it! You can continue to nominate until December 31st, 2009. Finalists will be announced on February 5th, 2010. Winners will be announced at the Whitney Gala on April 24th, 2010.

Gotta Love HP

I really haven't disappeared off the face of the Earth. I am just waiting (not so) patiently for the power adaptor HP promised me over a week ago. The one under warranty. The one I paid for. Yeah, well thanks to the wonders of outsourcing, I am kept up to date with e-mails like this.

"Thank you for contacting HP Total Care.
Reviewing the entire interaction I understand that we have created service order for your notebook AC adapter but still you have not receive AC adapter.
Due to lack of AC adapter we are unable to send you AC adapter but now we have got stock, so we will be able to send AC adapter of your notebook very soon. I apologies for the inconvenience cause to you. I hope that you understand our limitation and scope of support. If you need further assistance, please reply to this message and we will be happy to assist you further."

Of course that was after they sent me an e-mail addressed to Annie regarding a computer I'd never heard of. Followed by this e-mail.

"Thank you for contacting HP Total Care.

We apologize for the inconvenience caused to you from our end, as the e-mail which you received was sent to you due to some tool issue or by mistake. We regret for the inconvenience caused.

This should resolve the issue. If you need furtherassistance, please reply to this message and we will be happy to assist you further."

Yeah, so never mind that this is the laptop I use for my books, my school visits, my blog, my facebook. I'll just sit here with my friends and go quietly insane.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What's Standing In Your Way?

by Sariah S. Wilson

So with all these fun questions going on (and I'm sure I'm not the only one having a great time reading all the answers/comments), I thought I'd add to the mix. (Plus, I've spent the last two days trying to think of a blog topic and nothing's working. No sleep plus busyness plus a heartbreaking football loss (other team scored in the last 30 seconds of the game and one of our team's cornerbacks wound up with a broken collar bone - plus my son feeling like the loss was his fault because he couldn't stop the quarterback quickly enough) equals a crushing blow to creativity.)

1. What is the main thing standing in your way right now as far as your writing goes? By that I mean - what's stopping you from starting your next book or stopping you from writing as much as you would like or keeping you from editing your current manuscript, etc.

2. If you were given an extra hour every day, would you spend it writing?

3. What do you do when your Muse is gone?

The main thing(s) standing in my way right now are small children, broken up periods of sleep, and everything that has to be done. I now know that I could not have been a mother of nine children like my mom, nor could I have had several children close in age. I'm barely functioning with the 21-month difference between my youngest two. I don't know how to get everything done, and as I'm just hanging on by my fingernails, the last thing I want to do is sit down and write and try to be creative. I want to turn my brain off.

So, in answer to number two, if I had an extra hour every day, I would probably want to use it for sleeping or cleaning up.

My Muse has definitely left the building (and has been out partying for the last two years - I don't know when she's planning on coming back home). The best remedy would probably be just to sit down and force myself to write, but I'm wondering whether people have suggestions on how to stimulate creativity.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Why Did the Javelina Cross the Road?

When was the last time we played a game? I don't remember either, but since it's Friday and I've given up blogging, it's as good a filler as any, right?

Last time we wrote short-short (short!) stories about an old guy in Bermuda shorts. This time, since I recently re-read Watership Down, we're writing about . . . a javelina. For those of you unfortunate to live north of AZ, here's a little zoological info:

The collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu) commonly known as the javelina, is found as far south as Argentina and as far north as Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Collared peccaries are in the even-toed, hoofed mammal order of Artiodactyla. Javelinas are often called pigs but they really are not. They eat a wide variety of fruit, tubers, acorns, grass, prickly pears, mesquite beans, every bulb I've ever planted, and tons of the bird food my mother puts out for her feathered friends. According to a government site I just perused, they are not nocturnal, but I've never seen one jogging down our street or munching away in our yard much before twilight or after dawn. (Clearly, the one in the following picture is nobody I know personally.)

So . . . today's challenge is to write a short-short-short story (two paragraphs, max) explaining why the peccary (javelina) crossed the road. We'll close entries Saturday at midnight and vote through next Thursday, midnight. Winner gets a small stuffed javelina and a jar of prickly pear jelly -- the favorite treat of desert non-pigs everywhere!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Spin Seats

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I was sitting in a cafeteria last week that had an old-fashioned counter with the spin seats. A little boy was sitting a few seats away and he was having a great time spinning on the chair. His mother was sitting next to him and was a little distracted, but every time she looked up, she would say, “John, stop spinning. If you don’t stop spinning, we’re going to have to sit in the booth.” Then she would look down in her purse or talk to the clerk and he would spin again. The thing that caught my eye, however, was the sheer joy on his face every time he spun around. He had the biggest smile and his whole body seemed to just be in sync with how much fun he was having. The only time he stopped was when his mother would look at him and say, once again, “John, stop it. I mean it. Don’t do it again.”

Like most writers, I started writing because I loved it. I love creating something and it is exhilarating to “spin” a story. The characters come alive on the page and I can see the scenes in my head and it makes me smile when it all comes together. There’s a certain joy in just writing. There’s also joy when other people can appreciate what you’ve written. We’re like the child, enjoying the spinning chair, but we are spinning stories.

However, there is almost always a figure like John’s mother, who is telling us to stop. Sometimes it comes from within, with insecurities that we’re not good enough, that no one will like our stories, or that no one will publish our work. Sometimes those voices are enough to make us stop. We lose the joy we once had and we stop spinning. Or, perhaps we let a rejection letter or a bad review stop us from spinning our stories. Those things could drive anyone to drown their sorrows in an ice cream sundae in a booth. But they shouldn’t.

Sometimes we get so bogged down in every day life, with all its stresses, deadlines, and have-to do lists, that we forget the joy. We forget the joy we once had in just spinning a story. How the smiles were easy when a scene just flowed or if a plot finally thickened. How the spinning and the writing put a spring in your step and made you want to spin even more and faster this time. How much you loved life in that moment because of what you were able to bring to it and to create within yourself. Don’t ever forget the joy.

Eventually John’s mother took him by the hand and led him over to a booth. He looked longingly at that spinning seat for the rest of the time he was there. Don’t be the kind of person who is led to the booth where there’s no spinning of any kind. Don’t let the stories inside of you die while you stare longingly at the spinning seat. Get on that spinning seat. Spin your stories and feel the joy even on those days when you’ve got someone telling you to stop. Spin until you’re dizzy and then smile and spin some more. If nothing else, you may help the person next to you to remember what’s important as they watch you spin and smile and feel the joyful energy inside. It’s all about escaping the booth and loving the spin. It’s your moment in time. Make the ride last.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Three More Questions

Remember how yesterday Rob said that even if he posted a half-hearted blog, he was still better than Jeff, who didn't post at all this week? I'm thinking that, given how horrendously behind I am on my work-in-progress and the fact that, um, strictly speaking, I haven't actually prepared my villain presentation for the Book Academy conference next week, I'd better be one-fourth-hearted in blogging today. This still allows me to be better than Jeff, so I'm okay with that. (This would make a good math story problem: If Stephanie is greater than Jeff but less than Rob, and Rob has an awesome manuscript he's planning to take to the World Fantasy Convention at the end of October, how much nicer should Rob's Christmas present to Stephanie be compared to his Christmas present to Jeff when Rob sells his manuscript to Tor for a record-breaking advance?).

So since I'm just a shameless copycat when it comes to a blog format today, today's blog, like Rob's, involves three questions for you. Topic: the road to publication.

It's easy, I think, to look at published authors--especially authors who have published dozens of books--and sort of imagine that they were born published. Yes, there are the lightning-strike stories, but most authors spend a lot of time clawing their way up the mountain before they get that first contract. So today's questions for any writers reading this blog are:

1-How many years did you work on writing a novel or novels before you started submitting to publishers? (You can calculate this however you want. For me, I'm going to start counting from when I first started playing with a story with the idea that I wanted to write a novel, even though at first I was just writing whatever scenes pleased me, rather than making a focused effort to produce a whole manuscript. And there were big gaps during my college years where I didn't work on writing fiction at all, but oh well, close enough).

2-How long did it take from when you submitted your first manuscript to a publisher to when you had a manuscript accepted for publication?
(Not when the book was actually on the shelves, but when you got that e-mail/phone call/letter telling you the book had been accepted).

3-How many rejections did you receive before your first book was accepted?

If you're shy, it's okay to post anonymously. And if you're a pre-pubbed author, just answer the questions according to where you're at right now.

I guess it's only fair if I answer my own questions, so:

1-About 15 years
2-About 2 years
3-two rejections

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Answer Me These Questions Three

by Robison Wells

This is one of those blogs wherein I ask you questions. However, despite what you may think, this is not because I'm a lazy sack of crap. While that is definitely true, I have honest-to-goodness real reasons for today's cop-out blog. (And, since Jeff didn't post at all yesterday, then I'm free to be as half-hearted as I want to be. I'm still better than him.)

So, next Thursday I have to go speak at the UVU Something Book Conference Thing. It's a conference for writers and readers, and it's shaping up to be pretty interesting. However, some chump asked me to speak (that chump's name rhymes with Hoolie Shmellon). And worse, she asked me to speak on the ever-impossible subject of humor.

Here's the news: I don't know why things are funny. Well, no, that's not true. I understand fairly well the mechanics of humor. But what I can't do is teach you to be funny. I'm not saying that it can't be taught, just that I can't do it. Consequently, I made it clear in the class synopsis that I'll be talking about humor, not how to write humor. And, if it sounds like I'm not looking forward to this, then I have properly conveyed my message.

Anyway, because humor is so subjective and ambiguous and personal, I want you guys to answer some questions for me. And then next week there will be a drawing, and the commenter who wins the drawing will receive something that I haven't yet thought of. Pretty exciting.

Here are the questions:

1. What is your favorite humorous book and why?
2. Who is your favorite comedian and why?
3. What is your favorite type of humor and why?

The 'whys' are the most important part of your answers, so don't neglect them. And, the answer to 'why' cannot be any incarnation of 'because it's funny' or 'you just have to see it'.

Here's the deal. If you don't help me out here, then my entire presentation next week will be forty five minutes of me showing Olive Garden commercials and then explaining why they're not funny. As you can see, I'm desperate.

You can follow Rob on Twitter. His tweets are even less interesting than his blogs, but at least they're shorter.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

$25 Restaurant Gift Certificate for $1

by Sariah S. Wilson

Today's another busy Saturday, and I still have a million things to do, but I thought I'd stop in and share this tidbit -

There is a site called that sells gift certificates for restaurants at a reduced cost (like a $25 gift certificate costs $10).

A couple of things about this site -

1) It doesn't typically include major chain restaurants (TGI Fridays, Applebee's, Chili's, etc.). The restaurants included seem more like smaller local restaurants.

2) There are restrictions on how the certificates are to be used. The most common one that I see is that in order to use a $25 gift certificate, you have to spend at least $35 (which before tip/tax would make your meal $10). Different restaurants have different restrictions, so be sure to read the fine print before you commit to buying anything so you know what you're getting yourself into (sometimes it's for lunch only, or Sunday through Thursday only, or must purchase two entrees, etc.). The restrictions are right below the order button so they're easy to read.

So first I'd recommend taking a look and seeing if there's anything near you (you can tell it to search up to 30 miles away) that you'd like to try out. I checked out a couple of Utah ZIP codes - there are 52 participating restaurants within a 30 mile radius of Salt Lake City, 25 participating restaurants within a 30 mile radius of Provo (probably some overlap there).

Here's the deal part - is running a special through tomorrow where they're taking ninety percent (yes, 90%) off the cost of their gift certificates.

Which means you can get a $25 gift certificate for $1.


When you check out, where it says "Enter Discount Code" (yellow box near the top) enter the word NINETY.

You can also print out your gift certificates immediately, and they're good for one year. I bought three yesterday for some local restaurants here in Ohio, and I think these will make for some inexpensive date nights with my husband.

If you're not interested in going out yourself, you do have the option of buying gift certificates as gifts for others (click on the "Give a Gift" tab), or you can check out some of their online partners (like Mrs. Fields, although these deals don't seem to be quite as good - more like $25 off of $75).

Something else to keep in mind - as I told you earlier in this post, you can use a site like to buy these certificates - right now Ebates is giving 15% cash back for, and it will pay you $5.00 for signing up and making your first purchase (so you head over to Ebates, sign up, do a search for, click on the link and then Ebates will take you there and you just shop like normal).

You have to hurry - this deal expires tomorrow!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Getting It Right

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Well, I finished the edits on my book that is coming out in the spring. I changed some things and added one more layer to a character that I’m really excited about. But I also had some other scene details that I’ve been thinking over.

For instance:

If you are being pulled over a ledge to your death and your hands are handcuffed behind your back, should you bite the hand of the person’s that’s pulling you? What’s the best way to get out of that one?

Perhaps I shouldn’t have the hands handcuffed behind the back, maybe I should just have them duct taped. But then the scenario is still the same. Maybe I should have the hands duct taped in the front instead of the back. But again, does the scenario change? How would you get out of that?

Could you use your teeth to get duct tape off of your hands quickly? (I thought about experimenting with this one, but for some reason my kids wouldn’t cooperate.)

If you did bite the villain of the story, would you ask for water to rinse your mouth out after? Are mints too much?

If you have a scene idea while in church, is it bad form to write it on the program?

If you had ten seconds to tell someone you loved one last thing besides I love you, what would it be?

If you named a character after your sister-in-law, and through the entire book it’s not clear whether she’s evil or good, does that send a message?

These are the thoughts that have been running through my head as I’m doing a final read through and thinking about the scenes I’ve changed and possible details that might need to be added. I wouldn’t say I’m obsessing, but I have thought about them a lot. It’s like a little glimpse into my thought processes. Scary, I know. But it’s not like I can really ask normal people these questions (hey, do you think handcuffs or duct tape is best?) without them calling the cops. Not that I’m saying you guys aren’t normal, (well, sort of. Some more than others) but you get the writing process and aren’t fazed by such questions. So if you have any thoughts for me, let me know. I want to get it right. After all, isn’t that what writing is all about, getting it right? Well, most of the time, anyway.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Winners and a Question

by Stephanie Black

A big thank you to everyone who submitted working title suggestions for my work-in-progress. Whether the titles were serious or funny, I appreciate all the ideas. Using a handy-dandy number generator, I picked a random winner from the title submitters. And the winner is . . .

L.T. Elliot

L.T., send me an e-mail at, give me your snail mail address, and let me know which of my books you would like.

Some of the title suggestions would make awesome lines of dialogue. I can just see Abigail, hands on hips, glaring at a trembling Derek and asking, “Brother, What Didst Thou Do? Do you really Believe in this Method of Fooling the Family?” (thanks, Karlene and Charlie!) And when the villain finally gets his comeuppance (he would have gotten away with it, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids) somebody’s gotta say, “Buddy, you should have known this was coming. Time Wounds All Heels.” Ha ha! (Thanks, Jordan). And at some point, somebody needs to call Abigail an “Endearingly Angelic Menace” (thanks, Melanie Goldmund!).

So I went through the list of suggestions a bunch of times, and finally ended up deciding to go with Cold as Ice, which, wasn’t, strictly speaking, on the list, though if I hurried I could add it there. But thank you for all the ideas, help, inspiration, and entertainment. Since I didn’t end up using one of the suggested working titles, I did another random drawing for book #2. And the winner is . . .

Jordan McCollum

Jordan, let me know which book you’d like.

Thank you again to everyone who took the time to come up with title suggestions for me. I really appreciate it.

I finished the read-through of the manuscript and give it a rousing “okay,” which translates to mean “you’ve got a lot of work to do, sister.” I still can’t figure out how some authors can write good books with only minimal revision to the original manuscript. It must be some kind of superpower, like being able to match all the socks in your laundry basket or parallel park. For this manuscript, it's going to be three drafts before I'm even ready to send it to test readers, and another draft to fix the problems they point out. I'd love to do one more polishing draft after that, but I have this funny feeling I'm going to be squashed tight against the time when I said I'd send it in.

So here’s my question for all you writers out there, published or unpublished. Approximately how many drafts does it take you before you have a manuscript ready to submit?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Catching Up

by Robison Wells

My brain isn't working quite right this morning, but I want to blog anyway (because I didn't last week, as was so rudely pointed out by that ne'er-do-well Stephanie Black). Consequently, I'm going to blog, but I'm not going to make it one big coherant essay. Just a bunch of stuff, connected via bulletpoints.

  • First, and most importantly: I am finally writing a good book. I've spent the last four months not writing good books, but now I am. You may recall that two weeks ago my brother gave me the challenge: if I have a book to sell, he'd pay my way to the World Fantasy Convention at the end of October. Well, I am proud to say that I immediately started a book, outlined the entire plot, discovered that I'd outlined three books, cut it down, started writing it, and discovered it was crap. I did all of that in about four days. Then, one day I had to take my mom to the doctor's office, and while sitting in the waiting room I struck upon a great new idea. Since then (in six writing days) I've churned out 35,000 words, which is about half the length of the book. As you can imagine, I'm quite freaking pleased.

    (Clarification: when you are trying to sell a book to a publisher, it's probably not in your favor to say "The best part is, I wrote it in twelve days!" I'm not saying that the speed at which I'm writing is a great thing--I know I'll have to go back and revise quite a bit. But, it's awfully nice, after three years of piddling around, to have a great story that is fun to write.)

  • Second, for those of you who have been following my weight loss on the other blog, you've probably noticed that I haven't been blogging there for about a week. Again, that's because I've been writing this book. But, the current tally is: I'm down six pounds. And, most importantly (to me, at least) that's six pounds of dieting without significantly changing my habits. I've switched entirely over to non-sugary drinks, and I eat smaller portions than I did before. That's it. None of this no-processed-foods or count-your-calories nonsense. That's for crazy people.

  • Third, did you see the BYU game on Saturday? Holy freaking crap, that was awesome. Sadly, I speak as a man who lost faith in his team, and I'd said several times that I'd be happy if they just beat the +22 point spread. So, dear BYU, I'm sorry that I doubted you. I love you, baby.

    In similar news, did you notice that it's football season? That's the sweetest season of the entire year! Did you watch as perpetually overrated Ohio State struggled against Navy? Did you follow the Blount controversy up in Oregon? Did you notice that the Mountain West Conference won almost all of its games? I did all of those things, obsessively, and more. And I wrote half of a book. Take that, people who call me a slacker.

  • Fourth, despite all of the football watchin' and book writin' that's been going on, I also have discovered the surprisingly exciting world of tennis. (Not playing it, of course, because I don't want to be that healthy.) I've been watching the U.S. Open almost as much as I've been watching football. And it's quite awesome.

    A few tennis thoughts, from someone who knows nothing about the sport:

    • Women's tennis is more entertaining than men's tennis (and I know what you're thinking, but it's not just because of the short skirts). (Shame on you.) Men's tennis is all about power and winning off the serve. Women seem to have longer volleys. It's more fun to watch.

    • I'm rooting for Wozniacki to win. I want to name a kid Wozniacki, and call him/her Woz.

    • Roger Federer is one arrogant son of a gun. He makes NBA players look humble.

    • Wikipedia can't conclusively answer for me how tennis scoring came to be so weird. I find this troubling.

Anyway, it's ten o'clock and I need to get back to work. If I can keep up my schedule, this time next week I might have a full rough draft. That'd be neat.

Do you Twitter? If so, Rob would love you to be his follower. And, by "follower", he means "slave".

Monday, September 07, 2009

Is There Really Any More to Say?

I mean really, is there anything more to say?

Okay, maybe this!

What, you were looking for something to do with writing? Come on didn't you know that sports relates to everything?

Okay, I've got you covered.

First quarter: McKay Jacobson is playing front of all his famiy and friends since he is from Texas, where the game is taking place. In front of a national audience, broadcast on a giant screen that goes from twenty yeard line to twenty yard line, he fumbles a punt reception. Not only does he fumble it, but he loses it. A couple of minutes later, his mistake turns into an Oaklahoma TD.

This lead holds up until thiree minutes to go in the game.

What is going through this young man's head? What would be going through your head? Imagine getting your work reviewed on the biggest stage possible and failing miserably. Would you give up writing? Would you decide you didn't have what it takes? Would you curl and in a ball and cry?

Or would you pull in the winning touchdown catch with those same people watching?

From the musical Seesaw

If you start at the top, you're certain to drop.
You've got to watch your timing;
Better begin by climbing up, up, up the ladder.
If you're going to last, you can't make it fast, man,
Nobody starts a winner, give me a slow beginner.
Easy does it my friend, conserve your fine endurance,
Easy does it my friend, for that's your life insurance.

It's not where you start, it's where you finish,
It's not how you go, it's how you land.
A hundred to one shot, they call him a klutz,
Can outrun the fav'rite, all he needs is the guts.
Your final return will not diminish,
And you can be cream of the crop.
It's not where you start, it's where you finish,
And you're gonna finish on top.

Hey it's labor day. So get to work writing!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Televised Death, Zombies and Cat Saving

by Sariah S. Wilson

I get these spurts of reading time - it isn't as often as I would like, but I'm so busy these days that I try to accomplish as much as I can in a short period of time and then just have to wait for the next schedule opening to come along.

Just finished:

As I mentioned in this post here - I thought "The Hunger Games" was one of the best books I'd read in a very long time. Simply could not put it down. So you know I was stoked when I found out that my local Barnes & Noble had the sequel, "Catching Fire," in stock. Down I drove to the store whilst still in my PJs, wearing glasses, hair in a bun.

Got home by 9:30. Book was done by 1:00. Paid for it dearly the next day.

Was it worth it? Heck yeah!

I was every bit as engrossed in "Catching Fire" as I had been in "The Hunger Games." I will say the only difference is that in the first book everything felt new - it was a world I was visiting for the first time and knew nothing about. Now I know a lot about this world, so it felt more familiar, but Suzanne Collins definitely managed to make this one every bit as readable and compelling as the first one. Here's the back cover copy:

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

Here's what Publisher Weekly had to say about it:

Fresh from their improbable victory in the annual Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta get to enjoy the spoils only briefly before they must partake in a Capitol-sponsored victory tour. But trouble is brewing—President Snow tells Katniss directly he won’t stand for being outsmarted, and she overhears rumbles of uprisings in Panem’s districts. Before long it’s time for the next round of games, and because it’s the 75th anniversary of the competition, something out of the ordinary is in order. If this second installment spends too much time recapping events from book one, it doesn’t disappoint when it segues into the pulse-pounding action readers have come to expect. Characters from the previous volume reappear to good effect: Katniss’s stylist, Cinna, proves he’s about more than fashion; Haymitch becomes more dimensional. But the star remains Katniss, whose bravery, honesty and wry cynicism carry the narrative. (About her staff of beauticians she quips: “They never get up before noon unless there’s some sort of national emergency, like my leg hair.”) Collins has also created an exquisitely tense romantic triangle for her heroine. Forget Edward and Jacob: by book’s end (and it’s a cliffhanger), readers will be picking sides—Peeta or Gale?

(As far as the triangle goes, I'd have to say I'll be happy either way. Both guys are rootable.)

I would say this book skews a little older than the last one. Some references to what girls might have to sell in order to survive, the heroine shares a bed with a boy, etc. I'm loving the way she's developing the characters - I wasn't suprised by the twist at the end (the hinting/foreshadowing is put on pretty thick), but I was surprised by the people involved with it.

In the middle of reading:

What can I say? I'm not a purist. I like Jane Austen adaptations. I don't mind the many "sequels" out there. I loved both the LDS version of "Pride and Prejudice" and the Bollywood one. (As a side note, I got into an interesting discussion on a Regency Yahoo group about the LDS version of "P&P" as many felt it was inappropriate to set the story among those cultures. I couldn't figure out why - if you're okay with adaptations in the first place, it seems to me that if you're going to set it in modern day that there's few cultures you could still do the story in. Part of what makes the story so romantic (to me, anyway) is the restraint exercised on both sides. I can imagine that for a contemporary audience, a retelling of the story would be quite different; the characters would have to be very, very different because of the modern world. They didn't agree with me; but then they hated the Keira Knightley version as well, and I liked it for various reasons (an actual pretty Jane, the youth of the actors, the passion in the first confrontation scene between Darcy and Elizabeth, etc.) Like I said, I'm pretty open to different adaptations.)

Back to the the zombie version - the zombies and fighting of said zombies is a wee bit gross, but it's fun reading this classic book with zombies thrown in. I'm not too far into it yet - Elizabeth's just arrived at Netherfield. I do think it's hilarious though that there's a collector's edition coming out in October!

Also coming out in October is a graphic novel version of "P&P." I'm pretty sure I'll be picking that one up as well.

To be read:

My to be read list is is a very long, long, long list, but I am determined that the next thing I will read will be "Save the Cat!" by Blake Snyder. He wrote an article in a writing magazine that I subscribe to, and the things he said made a lot of sense. Plus, I'm fairly impressed by someone who manages to sell just ideas that don't even get turned into movies and still make a lot of money.

While searching for an image of the cover, I discovered that Blake Snyder passed away unexpectedly a month ago. He had plans to adapt his "Save the Cat!" structure to romance novels, and I'm disappointed that I won't ever get to read that now.

I've read recommendations from several writers who can't say enough good things about this book. I'm looking forward to reading it.

What are you reading/have you just read/will read soon?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Saving Madeline---Review

by Julie Coulter Bellon

*If you make a comment, you will be entered into a drawing to own this newly released book. Good luck!

Saving Madeline, a new novel by Rachel Ann Nunes is a book you can discuss with your friends and family long after you’ve finished the story. She brings forth so many moral and ethical issues, it really makes you think. Of course, it is also a book that will keep you turning pages to see what the characters decide to do in the end.

She starts out with a defense attorney, Caitlyn McLoughlin, defending an accused rapist. She knows her client is guilty, and instead of upholding her oath as a defense attorney, she instead practically gift-wraps a conviction for the prosecution. Frankly, I was put off by that because, with our judicial system, even the guilty deserve a fair trial. Caitlyn feels jaded, however, because of her job and the guilty men she’s helped go free and as she watches the victim’s family, she doesn’t want to see this man get out to hurt another young woman. So, professionally, she’s done something that could possibly get her disbarred, but personally, she’s done something so she can live with herself. It begs the question: What would you do?

Nunes also brings out the question of, if you are a parent, is there anything you wouldn’t do to protect your child? What if it included doing something illegal?

Parker Hathaway is a law-abiding citizen, but knows his daughter is in danger and he wants to protect her. The only problem is he doesn’t have custody. He is conflicted, but goes ahead with his plan anyway, knowing he would risk everything for his little girl. Things don’t go as planned, and Parker ends up in an overloaded system where officers and social workers aren’t inclined to give second chances to anyone. Would you risk jail time for any of your children?

Caitlyn McLoughlin is assigned to Parker Hathaway’s case and she can’t decide if she believes Parker or not, but agrees to defend him anyway. She becomes wrapped up in his life and the lines between attorney and client are blurred. But is Parker manipulating her and the system? There doesn’t seem to be much evidence to back up his claims of danger to the child, but Caitlyn digs deeper and what she finds requires her to put everything on the line. Does she have the courage to do what needs to be done?

Nunes provides a realistic glance into a world where right and wrong aren’t easily determined and choices are never black and white. There were some parts that had me shaking my head, others where I was nodding in agreement, but I loved that the characters were flawed and realistic and that they didn’t have any easy answers either. I think Nunes does an amazing job writing the emotion and it packs a punch. Be prepared to ride a roller coaster with the ups and downs of a book that I can say had me thinking about it for days after I finished it.

Saving Madeline
by Rachel Ann Nunes
Published by Shadow Mountain
Visit Rachel at her website

It's Title Time!

by Stephanie Black

Technically, it's still Wednesday, at least in my time zone, so according to Frog Blog rules, I still get full credit for blogging on time. After midnight, it's half credit; after that, you become known as "Rob."

I finished the second draft of my work-in-progress. I'm happy about that. I tried to print it out so I can read through it, but the printer jammed after twenty pages. I hope that isn't symbolic of anything bad. My daughter fixed the printer, so tomorrow I'll finish printing it--ten-point type, single-spaced, and blue ink, all the things you'd never do to a manuscript you're actually submitting. I didn't write it that way, but I formatted it that way for printing to save paper and black ink (because we're forever running out of black ink). I'm not doing a line edit, so I don't need extra space, and I didn't want to use 340 sheets of paper to print it out for a quick read-through.

It's a much different experience reading a manuscript straight through in printed form than it is working through it chapter by chapter on the computer screen. I need to see how it reads as a whole. I know it needs work, but that's okay--that's why it's the second draft, not the final draft. Ironically, given that I'm teaching a class on villains in a few weeks, the villain is currently lame-o.

It has no working title. The file is called novel5draft2, which is dull. By the third draft, it's nice to have something to call it. Once again, I'm turning to our kind, delightful, witty, and all-around awesome blog readers to give me some suggestions. Same rules apply as last time--anyone who submits a title suggestion--whether serious or goofy--will get entered into a drawing. I'll draw a name next Wednesday, and the winner picks whichever of my books he or she would like. And if I end up using any of the suggested titles, I'll send a book to the person who suggested it. Here's a little blurb about the book:

Ever since her wayward brother, Derek, created a humiliating scene at a family funeral, Abigail Westcott has struggled to mend the rift between Derek and her parents. Derek seems to be getting his life back on track—until someone near him is murdered, and everything from the motive to the murder weapon points to Derek as the killer. Abigail is the only one who believes in him, and her fight to prove his innocence doesn’t sit well with a ruthless killer willing to do whatever it takes to conceal a fifteen-year-old secret.

Other info . . . hmm. It takes place in upstate New York in November, so it involves cold, snow, ice, that kind of thing. And rocks play a role in the story. Yeah, rocks.

All suggestions are welcome!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Dear Deb

I know, I know. I just posted and today is Tuesday so you are all waiting for the infamous Robert Z. (who will I skewer, I mean, interview today) Wells. But Deb’s comment made me wish I had gone ahead and written my own post yesterday anyway. What I was going to write was something to the effect of, “It’s not about who you know. It’s not about how famous you are. It’s not even really about how good your query is. It’s about the writing. It’s about the art. It’s about capturing a story so well that when you let others read it, it feels like showing them a fairy you caught in a jar.”

YOU are a writer. YOU are a great writer. YOU have a story inside you that the world wants to hear. Every day when you get up in the morning you say to yourself, “Today I will create something so cool that when other people read it, they will wish they had written it.” And you will. Maybe not on your first try. Maybe not even on your second or third. But eventually you will write something that shines. And when you do, you will want to know that agents are looking for your work.

So here are four of the biggest names in New York. These are agents most writers would kill to have selling their manuscripts. And what do they have to say? Read these quotes.

“I think everybody's looking for a book that you can't put down, that you lose yourself in so completely that you forget everything else that's going on in your life and you just want to stay up and you don't care if you're going to be tired in the morning.”

“But a really gifted writer will make me see things I've never seen even though I may have walked down the street a thousand times.”

“I generally find myself liking books that are not set in New York. Give me a weird little small town any day of the week.”

“I get most of my fiction through slush.”

“I found The Heretic's Daughter in the slush pile. The author had never written a novel before. She had never been in a writing class or an MFA program. She came out of nowhere.”

“The Squaw Valley writers conference.”

“I got a query through Friendster once. It was a good query, so I asked to read the book, and I went on and sold it.”

“That's exactly right. Clients come from everywhere and anywhere. And I think that's one of the biggest misconceptions about agents that some writers have. They think we're off in our ivory towers and our fancy offices in New York City. But the truth is that we're looking for them. We're waiting for them to come knock on our doors.”

WE ARE WAITING FOR THEM TO COME KNOCK ON OUR DOORS! Did you hear that? Who are they waiting for?

In the words of Bill Murray, “Me. Me. Me. Also me.” Or in this case, Deb, “You, you, you, you!” You are a great writer. You have a story to tell. If you don’t believe that, you need to look in the mirror and repeat this mantra over and over. “I am a great writer. I have a great story to tell. The world is waiting for me.” Keep saying in until you remember why you started writing in the first place. Then get out there and sell your story.

What Agents Want

So I had a great post I was going to write today about finding and working with the right agent. Then I came across this interview and went, "Here is pretty much everything you need to know." Imagine sitting down for dinner with four, young, exciting agents and asking them everything you always wanted to know about the industry. Well this is it. It ran February of 2009, so it's even fairly up to date.

Read it and let me know what you think.