Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dawn's Early Light

by Kerry Blair

Prologue:

The last time my son was a youth speaker in sacrament meeting, he was assigned to speak after the bishop's daughter, a girl known for her spirituality, intelligence, and eloquence. He wrote a talk -- his mother saw to that -- but when it was his turn to speak, he folded up his notes and shoved them in his pocket before approaching the stand. He carefully adjusted the microphone, made eye contact with the congregation, said, "What she said. In the name of . . . " then sat back down.

Following Stephanie and Julie in the blogging rotation around Thanksgiving, I know just how my son felt. I'm grateful for so much, but unable to express myself quite as well as my fellow Writers. (I do, however, edge out the Frog.) So . . . in regards to Thanksgiving: What she said.

Blog:

Since we're "officially" entering the Christmas season today, I have a gift for you: a heads up about one of the best series you'll read this, or any, year. (Also a chance at winning great prizes!)

The series is Free Men and Dreamers and the author is L.C. Lewis, a truly remarkable writer. I'm not the only one who thinks so. Laurie was a double finalist in 2008's National Best Books Competition. (Yes, wow.)

The series is set against the background of the War of 1812. Many characters are the firstborn American generation--children of the Founding Fathers; the generation who received the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (It gives me goose bumps just writing it.) It began with Dark Sky at Dawn and continued in Twilight's Last Gleaming. (If those last three words sound familiar, well, yep, that's what the book's about, all right.) At long last for Laurie's legion of fans (look for me in the front row) Volume Three, Dawn's Early Light, has just been released.

True confession: I am a snob when it comes to historical fiction. (And some other things, too, she hastened to admit before Anonymous could point it out in the comments.) I am an American History junkie, I freely admit. I read it, watch it, study it, and live in it. (That latter thing because of my love of antiques. More than one of my kids' friends have asked them if our living room is a museum.) Because of this fixation, I read very little American historical fiction. Frankly, the errors, oversights, and twisting of facts to facilitate a storyline tend to annoy me no end. (I've thrown more than one book across the room, I'm embarrassed to say.) Thus, when a good friend at Covenant gave me Dark Sky at Dawn I waited until I was desperate for something to read before finally picking it up. True story: from the time I first picked up Free Men and Dreamers I have had trouble putting it down. Dawn's Early Light may, in fact, be my favorite.

Laurie is an incredible writer. Her characterization is brilliant and her voice sparkles. The stories move along and are often breathtaking in complexity and meaning. But that's not even what I love the best. What I most admire and appreciate is the thousands of hours of research, thought, preparation, and prayer Laurie has put into this gift to latter-day patriots. Her work and and thought and inspiration show. My gosh, does it show! Many of her sources are original -- meaning she tracked down actual historical documents herself, rather than pulling a book off the shelf and thereby relying on somebody else's possibly flawed and/or biased scholarship. This is rarer in writers of modern historical fiction than you can believe. What is rarer yet is the . . . meaning . . . Laurie brings to her work.

I have to confess: I don't really know Laurie Lewis. I met her once -- at the Storymaker's Conference last spring. She was pulling books out of a box in the bookstore. I stood star-struck -- as I usually am around writers I admire. But she's very kind, very gracious, and incredibly humble. (If I had written this series I would not be humble; I would be insufferably proud of myself.) I tell you that I don't know her because I want to make it clear that what I'm going to say next is "gospel according to Kerry" and Laurie may not even like me saying it. When I was reading an advance manuscript of Dawn's Early Light, more than once I thought, This woman was called (foreordained) to write this series. She has had some serious heavenly support.

Anyway, when Laurie offered to stop by the Frog Blog on her release tour, I hesitated one-eighth-of-a-second before shooting off an e-mail, begging her to make it on a Friday. And now, I fear, I can't do it justice. I've also promised 14 people supper at 5 PM. It is now 4:55 and, alas, I cannot write reviews and cook at the same time. That is the bad news. The good news is that I can give you an opportunity to enter Laurie's contest. All you have to do is ask Laurie a question in the comment on this blog before December 18. That's the day Laurie will draw winners (from the combined sites on this tour) for an autographed copy of her new book and (or) an incredibly beautiful "Liberty" necklace. As a bonus, she'll answer all your questions in a future blog.

And when she answers your questions (around the 18th) I will also include the review I owe you. (Not that I haven't hinted strongly already that I love this book!) I wish I could do it now, but I am way outnumbered by a hungry mob. (Each of whom I am grateful for.)

Read this book. Ask Laurie a question. Have a marvelous weekend with your families. Love you all!


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thank You

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Thanksgiving is a time for reflection and gratitude. There are so many things I’m grateful for today. As I think about the blessings in my life, I’m reminded of how important the little things are. Like the paper turkey my little boy made for me today, or the laughter and fun that we enjoy in our family. But there are so many other things and people that I’m grateful for I wonder if I could truly list them all. Thomas S. Monson reminded me of some things about gratitude and blessings in September 2005 and I wanted to share part of what he said with you today.

"We are thankful for blessings we cannot measure, for gifts we cannot appraise, “for books, music, art, and for the great inventions which make these blessings available[;] … for the laughter of little children[;] … for the … means for relieving human suffering … and increasing … the enjoyment of life[;] … for everything good and uplifting. . . ”

“I would like to mention three instances where I believe a sincere “thank you” could lift a heavy heart, inspire a good deed, and bring heaven’s blessings closer to the challenges of our day.

First, may I ask that we express thanks to our parents for life, for caring, for sacrificing, for laboring to provide a knowledge of our Heavenly Father’s plan for happiness.

From Sinai the words thunder to our conscience, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

I know of no sweeter expression toward a parent than that spoken by our Savior upon the cross: “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!

“Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.”

Next, have we thought on occasion of a certain teacher at school or at church who seemed to quicken our desire to learn, who instilled in us a commitment to live with honor?

The story is told of a group of men who were talking about people who had influenced their lives and for whom they were grateful. One man thought of a high school teacher who had introduced him to Tennyson. He decided to write and thank her. In time, written in a feeble scrawl, came the teacher’s reply:

“My Dear Willie:

“I can’t tell you how much your note meant to me. I am in my 80s, living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely and like the last leaf lingering behind. You will be interested to know that I taught school for 50 years, and yours is the first note of appreciation I have ever received. It came on a blue, cold morning, and it cheered me as nothing has for years.”

We owe an eternal debt of gratitude to all of those, past and present, who have given so much of themselves that we might have so much ourselves.

Third, I mention an expression of “thank you” to one’s peers. The teenage years can be difficult for the teens themselves as well as for their parents. These are trying times in the life of a boy or a girl. Each boy wants to make the football team; each girl wants to be the beauty queen. “Many are called, but few are chosen” could have an application here.

Let me share with you a modern-day miracle which occurred several years ago at Murray High School near Salt Lake City, where every person was a winner and not a loser was to be found.

A newspaper article highlighted the event. The article was entitled “Tears, Cheers and True Spirit: Students Elect 2 Disabled Girls to Murray Royalty.” The article began: “Ted and Ruth Eyre did what any parents would do.

“When their daughter, Shellie, became a finalist for Murray High School homecoming queen, they counseled her to be a good sport in case she didn’t win. They explained only one girl among the 10 candidates would be selected queen.

“As student body officers crowned the school’s homecoming [royalty] in the school gym Thursday night, Shellie Eyre experienced, instead, inclusion. The 17-year-old senior, born with Down syndrome, was selected by fellow students as homecoming queen. … As Ted Eyre escorted his daughter onto the gym floor as the candidates were introduced, the gym erupted into deafening cheers and applause. They were greeted with a standing ovation.”

Similar standing ovations were extended to Shellie’s attendants, one of whom, April Perschon, has physical and mental disabilities resulting from a brain hemorrhage suffered when she was just 10 years old.

When the ovations had ceased, the school’s vice principal said, “ ‘Tonight … the students voted on inner beauty.’ … Obviously moved, parents, school administrators and students wept openly.”

Said one student, “I’m so happy, I cried when they came out. I think Murray High is so awesome to do this.”

I extend a heartfelt “thank you” to one and all who made this night one ever to be remembered. The Scottish poet James Barrie’s words seem appropriate: “God gave us memories, that we might have June roses in the December of our lives.”


President Monson’s words are so eloquent in reminding me to express my gratitude more often for all the people in my life like my parents, my teachers, and my peers. I am so grateful for all of them and for what they’ve done for me. I have a lot of wonderful memories for the December of my life thanks to love and friendship, including those of you on this blog---both readers and contributors.

Thank you---and Happy Thanksgiving.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Books and Gratitude

by Stephanie Black

Thank you to everyone who entered the drawing for a copy of Jennie Hansen’s new suspense novel, Shudder. The winner is . . . Ronda Hinrichsen! Congrats, Ronda! Email me your snail mail address and I’ll mail you Shudder.

Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to express some gratitude. Here are a few things I’m grateful for:

*That I have NOT seen that zombie movie Rob talked about.
*That no one is planning to buy me an Edward Barbie doll for Christmas.
*That I do not have to go shopping on Black Friday. My daughter and I got a little weird last year and decided to give it a try. We walked into Kohl’s, saw that the line went all the way to the back of the store, screamed, and fled. Okay, I'm kidding about the screaming, but we did leave without buying anything. Unless they’re giving away free bricks of gold, no way is that kind of wait worth it.
*Pie. I am grateful for pie.

Random note: have you ever made your shopping list for Thanksgiving, and you go to the grocery store and you’re getting celery for stuffing and apples for pie and potatoes and suddenly you realize that there are two dinners left before Thanksgiving and you haven’t thought of anything to eat for those nights?

Now for some book-related gratitude:

*I’m grateful for the authors who’ve poured countless hours into writing books that gave me countless hours of enjoyment. I’ve always enjoyed reading—my mother says that I loved books from the time I was old enough to grab the pages. I can’t even imagine what life would be like without good stories to read. Three cheers for imagination!

*I’m grateful for the opportunity to write books as well as read them. An analogy: I play the violin—never practiced as much as I should have, but it’s fun, and I’ve enjoyed playing with some community orchestras. Reading a good book is like listening to music you enjoy. Writing a book is like playing it—it takes the experience up a notch, or ten. It’s not all a party, of course—writing a novel is a lot of work, and sometimes it’s a struggle. But writing books is something I love to do.

*I’m grateful for all the support and friendship I’ve received in the LDS writing community. I’ve made so many new friends through writing. There are always people ready to support you, give you advice, hold your hand, and walk you through the bad patches. In the good patches, there are always people cheering you on and celebrating your achievements. I’m grateful for Jeff, Rob, Julie, Kerry, and Sariah, my wonderful fellow Frog Bloggers, and for all of you who read the blog.

*I’m grateful for the people who read my books. Thank you for picking them up and giving them a chance, and Julie, I’m sorry about giving you the creeps. Well, sorta sorry. Okay, not sorry at all. More . . . gleeful. The wanting-to-steal-your-kid’s-nightlight comment is one of my favorite comments of all time. And thank you to everyone who has taken the time to drop me a comment or a note letting me know that they enjoyed my work. Those notes mean the world to a writer.

*I’m grateful for my publisher. They’ve been great to work with, and I’ve been blessed with two awesome editors. And I’m grateful for the bookstore staff who promote my books to customers.

*I’m grateful for the news I got from my editor yesterday telling me that my new manuscript has been accepted for publication. Waaahooo!!!! I’m very excited. And I’m grateful to Brian, Karlene, Jon, Anna, Sue, Dianna, Amy B., Amy M., and my Dad for their help with the book.

I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. And remember: Friday morning=pie for breakfast.


Books and TV and Movies, Oh My!

by Robison Wells

It's 10:45pm, and I'm hepped up on Lortab in an effort to kill a migraine. However, I feel like I ought to blog. If I don't, then that would mean four of the last five weeks have been blogless, and frankly, that's disgusting. If I don't blog despite being strung out on narcotics then the terrorists win.

Long time readers of this blog will know what happens when I have nothing to talk about: I talk about media that I have recently consumed. Here it is.

Movies:
Night of the Living Dead
I'm not a fan of horror movies--I'm not a fan of Halloween generally--but I am a fan of film, and Night of the Living Dead was one of those movies that I was always embarrassed to say I'd never seen. While it's no Citizen Kane, it is surprisingly good cinema, despite the fact that it's "just a zombie movie".

My wife and I tried to watch it, but she gets nightmares just by hearing the word "zombie", let alone watching a movie about them. So, we turned it off after thirty minutes. However, my fat croupy baby went through a long phase of staying awake all night, and he and I finished the rest of it in the middle of the night.

I have to say: it has one of the most awesome movie twists ever which I won't mention because you should rent the movie and see it for yourself. Unless you're the type of person who doesn't like seeing the undead feasting on the living. (If you're that type: boo on you.)

But the best part of the Night of the Living Dead experience is that a few days after we watched it, I was out of town and my wife was home alone with the kids. At three in the morning she was watching TV with the aforementioned croupy baby, when the power transformer in the backyard exploded! She searched the dark house for a flashlight, but there was none to be found (because my four-year-old son likes to play with them and waste the batteries) (and because I'm not big into all that preparedness nonsense). So, at 3am she was wandering the pitch-black house looking for a light, and she suddenly remembered: ZOMBIES! So, she and croupy baby barricaded themselves into the kids' room, her back against the closed door, and they all sang Primary songs until dawn.

(It's a good thing she hadn't watched the entire movie, particularly the part where the little girl zombie eats her mom. That probably wouldn't have helped things.) (Also, I just spoiled the neat twist that I mentioned a moment ago. Spoiler Alert! Retroactively!)

Nosferatu
I discovered that my dad has a collection of old, public domain monster movies, including the 1922 vampire silent film, Nosferatu. It was quite awesome, with terrible effects and crazy acting and awesome makeup and stop-motion filming that probably filled 1922 audiences with horror (but looked like a third grade art project now).

Ladies, please note: Nosferatu neither sparkled nor played baseball. Instead, he looked like this. My favorite scene:
Bella: I love you more than everything else in the world combined. Isn't that enough?
Nosferatu: Blaaarg! [Eats Bella]



The Last Starfighter
This movie scared the pants off me as a kid, but also filled me with complete delight. The premise: a kid plays a video game (the stand-up, arcade variety) so well that aliens come down to earth and ask him to be a starfighter! That's every little boy's dream! It's still my dream. I swear, one day the Joint Chiefs of Staff are going to knock on my door and say "Son, America's hopes rest on your shoulders. We can't get through that mine field without your ace sweeping abilities!" And then I'd sweep too fast, trying to beat the record, and I'd die.

Anyway, did you know that The Last Starfighter stars The Music Man!? What the heck? And he takes his face off!

Here's a possible flaw in the aliens' plan. They have a huge Star League, consisting on hundreds of planets, and they're trying to defend it with ONLY NINE STARFIGHTERS! What a dumb strategy. Fortunately, the enemy's "armada" consists of one crappy ship and twenty crappy fighters, and it only takes one starfighter to destroy them all. So, I guess nine starfighters is kind of overkill.


TV:
The Prisoner
I had high hopes for this. I loved the old series (though it was often campy and always weird). And the remake stars Ian McKellen (Magneto in X-Men), Jim Caviezel (Christ in The Mel Gibson Movie That I Can't Recall the Title Of), and What's Her Name, The Homely Girl Who Played Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre).

Well, I'm sorry to report that The Prisoner has a serious case of The Borings. Here's the problem: The Prisoner is supposed to be a very sinister paranoia show where we don't know what's real and what's not. However, this re-imagined version has come up with an interesting twist (the people in The Village seem to believe that it is the only place on earth), but they've tried so hard to hammer that home that they've take all the sinisterness out of the story. When he escapes, he is stopped by...heat exhaustion? The big bubble shows up once, but it manages to be unexciting.

There's no apparent double agents and no elaborate schemes. It's just: everyone lives in The Village; Magneto seems a little shady; people have dreams that maybe they lived somewhere else at some point, but--meh.

I have stopped watching it.

V
I also had high hopes for this, because apparently I like remakes of paranoia shows.

While it definitely has some problems, it still manages to be entertaining. The problems are: sometimes-bland characters, sometimes-unrealistic decision making, and a tendency to make the plotline override common sense. (For example: sometimes the Visitors have amazingly awesome surveillance that sees everything, and sometimes they miss obvious, stupid things. Whatever the plot needs at the moment.)

But, it's good popcorn fun. I'm not sure if this is a new series or a mini-series. I kind of hope it's the latter. I'd like there to be a solid conclusion.

Books:

A Lot of Whitney Stuff
I have boxes and boxes of Whitney nominees littering my living room, and I've been reading through them all. Some are quite good. Some, not so much. I don't like to review Whitney books (and thus, most LDS fiction) since I am a judge. But, suffice it to say: there's a book that you probably haven't heard of that is marvelous. And there's a book that you hear about all the time that is: meh. And there are others.

The Once and Future King
The only non-Whitney book that I've read recently is The Once and Future King. It's about King Arthur. I've read a lot of King Arthur books, and I've seen a lot of King Arthur movies, and this is about the most bland of them all. Granted, this is the one that most of them spring from--this isn't trying to be King Arthur With A Twist--and so I shouldn't fault it. But, man. I was disappointed. Captain Picard has led me astray for the last time.



If the previous post has amazed with its brilliance, then you have really low standards. You'd be a perfect follower of mine! Join me on Twitter.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Decision

Thanks for all the well wishes. A big part of me wanted to not say anything about signing with an agent until the book actually sells. If it doesn't for whatever reason, (and trust me, getting a great agent does not guarantee a sale) it will be annoying to admit that. But most of you have been with me a long time. I want to be able to share with you all of the ups and downs of this writing life I've chosen. When I do make a sale, you will be the first people I celebrate with. When I don't, I'll painfully admit it here. And the thing to remember is, even if you don't sell your first book through your agent, you still have a great agent. And something WILL get sold.

Which is not to say, I think Demon Spawn won't sell. In fact I can't remember ever being so excited about a book before. I love the story, the characters, and especially the setting. All of the agents who were interested in this have really raised my hopes about how this book could succeed.

This was an incredibly hard decision. I would have been happy with any of the agents who offered to represent me. I lost a ton of sleep. But ultimately the agent who I thought had the best chance to sell Demon Spawn is Michael Bourret, of Dystel and Goderich. Michael has an incredible track record--especially in YA. He has done very well with foreign rights. He really seems to know the industry inside and out. And he is a great guy from everything I've seen.

For those of you who don't know, Michael represents three other Utah authors: Sara Zarr, Emily Wing Smith, and . . . James Dashner. I know, I know. This was actually a pretty big concern for me. James and I are great friends and he has been an incredible support on everything I've been trying to accomplish. But there was a part of me that knows people will be saying, "Oh, look, he's just riding James' coat tails. That's why he got the agent."

The truth of the matter is that if I was going to ride on anyone's coat tails, James would be an awesome choice. I have learned a ton about the industry from talking to him. His feedback definitely played a big part in deciding who to go with. I know that Sara's feelings were a big part of the reason James chose Michael as well. But it's also true that knowing an author who is represented by a certain agent doesn't get you a special "pick me" card. I know this for sure, because I pitched another project to Michael several months ago and was rejected. It's still about the work.

So there it is. The plan is to write and polish over the rest of the year, as most publishers tend to take the holidays off, and start submitting in January if all goes well. In the mean time, I have just a few other books out there. So go buy them for your friends! And stick around. I'll keep you updated.


Monday, November 23, 2009

What to do When the Answer is—Finally—Yes!


Most of us have had plenty of experience with what we do when an agent says no. We pout, cry, pound our fists, and after [choose one or more: __eating, __running, __screaming,__ stabbing stuffed animal repeatedly ], we get back to writing. (Side note: If you checked off number four, you are one sick puppy. Get help immediately and/or stop writing/submitting.)

But what do you do when an agent says yes? Or even tougher when more than one agent says yes? Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve begun submitting proposals for my YA novel, with the working title of Demon Spawn. Here’s the “pitch” section of my query letter.

Blaze, a sixteen year old demon spawn, thinks her biggest worries this year will be fitting in at academy and getting used to guarding the humes damned to a lifetime of servitude in Hell. That’s before her close friend, Jazz, a third year, is involved in an attempted hijacking of the J-trans that bring new humes from Judgment every month, and an injured seraph shows up in the dorm room of Blaze and her best friend, Cinder, asking for help. In order to clear Jazz’s name, the three friends agree to help the Seraph return to his home before the atmosphere of Hell kills him. They are joined by a mute hume who seems to have memories of the outer circles of Hell and what dangers lie on the way to the mountains of Judgment, and the woman who translates for him.

On the journey, Blaze and the Seraph become attracted to each other—to the point that he lowers his blinding aura enough that they can touch and even kiss. When they finally manage to reach the city Blaze must decide whether to stay in Hell with her friends or live a life of hiding with the man she thinks she loves. But all of that is about to be turned on its head when she learns the real truth about Judgment, Hell, and the identity of the Seraphs.

Of course the day after I e-mailed out my query, I received two rejections. One was a form, the other said that the first chapter didn’t live up to her hopes. Form too? Maybe, it was hard to tell. Of course I immediately did one or more of the above listed actions and convinced myself that my story was lousy, my writing was lousy, and I’d be better off selling shoes in the mall. Then, an amazing thing happened. Several of the agents asked for the first fifty pages. And then, an even more amazing thing happened. A wonderful agent offered to represent me. Hurray! Right? So I let the other agents know I had an OOR. (Publishing speak for Offer of Representation—with caps and all!)

Then I got another OOR. And another. Wait, what? More than one agent is saying yes? Great news. But also kind of scary news. I know what to do if all the agents say no. Cry loudly. I know what to do if an agent says yes. Dance joyously. But what do you do when multiple agents says yes? I got on the phone, checked the Internet, talked to other published authors, and learned a few things. Now—assuming you kept reading after I told you about my great luck, as opposed to cursing me and punching the computer, because Savage of all people doesn’t deserve this good fortune—I will share my gained wisdom with you.

1) When you finally get an offer of representation, don’t immediately say yes. Talk to the agent and let them know you will consider their offer carefully while you let the other agents you have queried know that you have an offer. Ginger Clark, of Curtis Brown has a great post about this, here, http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2007/10/guest-blog-ginger-clark-on-how-to.html.

2) I assume if you are like me, you will want to know how many books each agent has sold, what type of books they have sold, and maybe even the range of the advances. You would then like to be able to compare one agent to another to see who might be the best match. There may be some magical free site to do this, but I couldn’t find it. However, there is a magical fee-based site which provides a ton of useful information. It is http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/ and for the agent researching author, it is a godsend. Best twenty dollars a month I ever spent! You might be surprised at how some of the top selling agents in your genre are not with the agencies you’ve heard of the most.

3) With all your stats, comparisons, and research gathered, it’s time to talk to each of the agents who has offered to represent you. I know you are scared to death. These are conversations that could change your life. Believe me, I was pacing like a caged panther as I awaited the time for each call. What if I say something dumb? What if it’s a mistake and they think I am someone else? Please tell me they really like me, and, even more important, that they like my work. You need to set aside those fears, and remember, you are interviewing them. They are people like you. Write down all your questions so you don’t forget any. You’ll have your own questions, but here are a few I asked:


What about my work appealed to you?

Who do you see selling this to?

How do you handle foreign rights?

Can I speak to some of your other clients?

How will you communicate updates to me?

Do you feel this is ready to send out now or are there changes you think I should make?

What types of manuscripts like this have you sold lately?

Do you have other clients with this type of story?

How could that help or hurt me?

How can you help me shape my career?

4) Talk to other authors represented by this agent. Make sure you get their dislikes as well as the likes.

5) Remember that each agent has their own way of doing things. If you get conflicting ideas or proposals from one agent, contact the other agents and get their thoughts.

6) Be careful of being blinded by the bright lights. One of the agents I spoke to worked for an agency that has some extremely well known clients. But when I talked to her, I found that she had a way of doing business that I wasn’t comfortable with. Nothing unethical in any way, just an approach that felt less like a team approach to me, and more of being on trial. I want an agent who is with me 100% and will put in the time and commitment to provide me with the best chance of success.

7) Finally, give yourself the chance to think rationally and calmly before making a decision. It’s easy to get swayed by one conversation. But you have to weigh all of the pros and cons with no pressure from anyone else. Remember, you are tied to an agent for life contractually, but hopefully they will be with you for the rest of your career. So choose for the long term.

Tomorrow. Who I chose.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Over the (New) Moon

by Sariah S. Wilson

I can tell my grandkids that I was officially there.

Opening night to see "New Moon."

It gave a new definition to royal craziness.

I wanted to go opening weekend. I'm not exactly a Twihard, but I did really love the first two books (and enjoyed the first movie). So I wanted to see "New Moon," particularly before anyone could tell me anything about it. I didn't want to go in with any preconceived notions.

Turns out I wasn't the only one.

I had to arrange for a babysitter (which is one of my least favorite things about my family moving far away) and since there was a stake dance Saturday night, she agreed to come over on Friday. We also try to go out after our kids are in bed 1) because we want people to come back and babysit for us again and 2) we're never really sure how our oldest son will (or won't) behave.

Before we finalized our plans, I made sure to go out and buy my seats from movietickets.com, because it would have been no fun had we shown up to the theater only to find all of the shows sold out. This was also due to the fact that my husband had heard on the radio that "New Moon" had managed to break the pre-sales record of any other movie. Better safe than sorry.

Our movie theater is located in an area that has several restaurants, bookstores, and some other cutesy niche type stores. We came over the rise and saw that every single stall in every single establishment was taken. There were cars driving everywhere looking for spots, and no one leaving the movie theater. I've never seen anything like that before.

We managed to find a spot on a street behind the entertainment complex and ran over to the theater. People EVERYWHERE. Lines and lines and lines of people.

Now, I went opening weekend for the second set of Star Wars movies. And these were movies that people had grown up with - had watched and rewatched multiple times. I remember the frenzied anticipation and giddiness over "Phantom Menace." And even that, IMO, didn't compare to what I saw for "New Moon." People were lined up inside for shows that started anywhere from half an hour to two hours later. Hundreds and hundreds of people.

We got into our show, and while looking for seats, someone offered to scoot over so that we could sit together in a very good row.

Now, I would recommend that if you plan on going to see "New Moon" that you definitely go to a showing that has multiple teenage girls. They make the movie more fun and will give you infinitely more laughs than you'd probably typically have (although some of the movie is unintentionally funny - you'll know what I mean in the scene where someone "sees" Alice's vision). Every time good old Jacob took off his shirt, we had a nearly Beatles-sized reaction in the audience. Totally funny.

As to my thoughts on the movie - very faithful adaptation of the book. I actually sort of like movies like Harry Potter's "Prisoner of Azkaban" where they remain faithful to the story, but have little new touches either in the scenery or scenes like the shrunken head talking. I think it makes it more fun to have something unexpected. For me, there was nothing like that in "New Moon." I knew exactly what everyone was going to say and going to do the entire movie, and I think that made it a little less fun for me.

The production values on this movie are infinitely better than the first. The special effects probably won't want to make you laugh in this one. The cinematography/background scenery is just gorgeous. And everybody is very pretty in this one.

Now, I really like Kristen Stewart (Bella) and Robert Pattinson (Edward), and I think they do good work in this movie. Taylor Lautner (Jacob), not so much. I can't help it - every time I look at him I think of him as being Shark Boy (from "Shark Boy and Lava Girl" - possibly one of the stupidest movies ever made, but my second son had a phase where it was his favorite movie so I was forced to watch it a lot). Things I loved character wise with Jacob I felt like was sort of glossed over or Taylor Lautner wasn't able to play it so that we understood how he was feeling. That was a bit of a disappointment to me.

Apparently I'm the only one who didn't think this was the best movie ever made. Don't get me wrong - I did like it and my husband liked it ("Yeah, it was good," he just said in an offhand way), but I didn't love it. I understand that this makes me weird because every other person I've talked to fanatically loved it (and said it was the best movie they ever saw and that it made them more Team Jacob than Team Edward, which I don't get because we all pretty much know how that team thing works out in the end). And box office numbers were astronomical - and broke a lot of records - nipping at the heels of "The Dark Knight" and "Spider-Man 3" for best opening weekend.

If you read that article about the record breaking, you'll see that they're negotiating with Stephenie Meyer for "Breaking Dawn." If that were me, I'd be giving Summit Entertainment instructions on where to bring their armored truck with my boatload of money. (And I still can't wrap my mind around what it must be like to be Stephenie Meyer and to have caused all of this.)

Have you seen "New Moon?" What did you think? Will you go and see it if you haven't already? Do you have any expectations for the movie?


Friday, November 20, 2009

Goodwill For All!

by Kerry Blair

It's Friday? Again? Already?

I've lost the last two weeks to another life -- a wonderful life wherein a marvelously quirky character wins the lottery and sets out to give away millions. Have no fear, this hilarious new novel is coming soon to a bookstore near you. At least it will be if I meet my deadline (Monday) so the author can meet hers at the end of the month. Sadly, I'm not only behind, but I still have to go back and revist the chapters I edited last night . . . apparently in my sleep.

Fortunately, you don't need me. There are blogs everywhere! I recently came upon one I particularly love. I met its author, Laura Lofgreen, at a speaking engagement in Mesa -- a fun event that got me mentioned (albeit in passing) in the same blog as Barbara Kingsolver. (!) Laura is the author of a soon-to-be-released YA novel, Colors of the Sea and she has a thing for mermaids. But that's not why I like her. At least it's not the only reason I like her. Laura is one of my new best friends because she genuinely shares my affinity for junk.

You've heard the expression "One man's trash is another man's treasure". Truer words were never penned. (No, not even by Mormon. Everything he carved in stone was as true, certainly, but not all that much truer.) I love other men's trash! A swap meet is to me what Disneyland is to children. All my family (save one -- hurray for Scott!) and most of my friends regard a foray into a thrift store in the same light as a trip to the dump. (I'd probably like the dump, too, but our local landfill won't let you take anything from it, even if all they plan to do is bury great stuff alive. So strange.)

I could go on about my secondhand fixation all day, but I have a fictional world to get back to. One recent example, then. For years I have lusted after a room-sized, hand-tied, Victorian-style wool rug in shades of beige, coral, and cream. Even at 70% off, they tend to be about a thousand dollars out of my price range. Two weeks ago, I dragged my daughter down to the local Goodwill under the guise of making a donation. As long as we were already there, I convinced her it wouldn't hurt to look around for "just a minute" or two. (Or twenty.) At the back of the store, under a matted Christmas tree, one-third of a room divider, and two cartons of old utensils, tools, and anything else they didn't know where else to put, I spied the tufted end of a rolled-up carpet. While it would have been easier to extract a 300-lb man from a mining disaster, I managed to drag it out into the daylight once again. Then I fainted. Well, almost. For $25 -- less the 20% they give you when you make a donation -- I now have in my living room an 8'x10' hand-tied 100% wool rug. Not only is it in perfect condition, it's . . . get ready for it . . . beige, coral, and cream.

Write your own moral to the story.

For more -- and even more fun -- testimonials to the joy of "trash-collecting," you just have to visit Laura's blog: My Dear Trash. Tell her I sent you, please. I want to prove that what I lack in star power I make up in appreciation and admiration. (I'll bet Barbara Kingsolver never sent anybody her way.)


Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Death on My Porch

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Well, as Stephanie mentioned, I had a birthday yesterday, (thank you to the three people who made awesome wishes for me. You’re my new best friends) and it was one of those milestone birthdays that makes everyone want to ask how you feel about it. (Don’t even try to guess in the comment trail how old I am. It makes writers like me cranky if you guess high and then I’ll be insecure about what people think of me and have to use my writing as therapy---it won’t be pretty, so just restrain yourselves, okay?)

So anyway, back to the point. I had this very mysterious thing that happened to me right around my birthday. (Or I just see creepy mysteries everywhere now since Stephanie’s Methods of Madness book has me totally spooked.) On our porch there is a little step before you get into our house and we found a fat little furry mouse lying there on my welcome mat covering the step. Dead. Just lying there like he was having a little nap before he came into the house. Except he was dead.

I know! Did you think like I did, that is was a message of some sort? I mean, who finds a dead mouse on their doorstep? Especially a fat one neatly arranged as if he were sleeping on a welcome mat. Happy birthday to me! Was someone trying to tell me I’d be dead soon? Were they trying to say “Welcome to death?” Was the fat little mouse supposed to represent me? *shudder* I admit that it crossed my mind that perhaps Stephanie had suddenly come to Utah and was experimenting with new plot ideas. She was probably hiding in my bushes waiting to see what my reaction would be to a dead mouse on my welcome mat. Which is wrong, Stephanie. Very, very wrong.

However, I did come up with another theory. The little dead mouse could also represent my writing career. Anyone who knows me, knows my story of how my career was almost over before it started. After three rejections, I gave up (I know, I was a crybaby!) and put my manuscript under my bed. I left it there for a year before I decided to revamp it and resubmit it (with some gentle nagging from another author friend.) Of course that decision changed my life since I got a contract and became a published author with the revamped manuscript. But I was almost like the fat little mouse---so close to getting what he wanted by being inside my warm house, but dying on the doorstep within inches of his dream. If I’d let that manuscript gather dust, my writing dream would never have been realized. But who would want to remind me of that? Stephanie wouldn’t want to remind me of previous failures so I’d get all depressed and stop writing, would she? Maybe her next book is about how an author sees how far she can influence her writer friends into giving up writing so she has no more competition and the entire Seagull store is full of only Stephanie Black books. Piles and piles of Black books that eventually take over the world. Tsk, tsk, tsk. I can totally see that happening after reading the subtext in Methods of Madness.

My final theory was that it was a death by natural causes. Since there was no blood, it seemed this poor little mouse managed to get on my step, and perhaps was so winded that when he felt the soft bristles of the welcome mat beneath him he thought he’d take a little rest. His right arm/leg was sort of hurting him, and he needed a breather. But before he could lie down, his little mousy heart just gave up and he had a heart attack. (You know, after you’ve had a birthday, sometimes you think of those sorts of things.) Or, Stephanie knew that Rob was coming over and had him gas the poor little rodent and arrange him on my doorstep. Getting him to do her dirty work would be brilliant since no one would expect something so devious from innocent-looking Robison Wells. That Stephanie has some tricks up her sleeve for sure. I mean, look at her novel! Creepiness personified.

So as I’ve contemplated my new age and the mysterious death on my porch, I’ve come to the conclusion that the general public should not read Stephanie Black’s book when it’s near your birthday because dead animals may or may not appear on your porch. If you disregard my advice you do it at your own risk because there's something about her book that will make you want to steal your kid's nightlight. It is seriously that good. I’m almost to the point where I can’t read it at night and I don’t want to read ahead because I know I’ll scare myself even further. It's not horror, though, just very well done spine-tingling mystery. I don’t know who the villain is yet, but I do know this. Stephanie isn’t who I thought she was. And whether she was directly or indirectly involved in that death on my porch, I know it’s some sort of message from her to me, to my subconscious in a conscious way. Spooky.

And here's one more thing I do know for sure. If I’m ever with you, and not feeling well, please, please, please don’t find the nearest welcome mat for me to die on no matter how much Stephanie begs for you to recreate the mouse's death scene. And if I die with bushes anywhere nearby, please check them. Just to make sure that Stephanie isn’t hiding there taking notes.

Thank you.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Shudder, by Jennie Hansen

by Stephanie Black

First order of business—it’s Julie’s birthday today! Party on the Frog Blog! Happy birthday to the lovely and talented Julie Bellon!

I was lucky enough to get my greedy little paws on a review copy of Jennie Hansen’s new suspense novel, Shudder. In fact, due to a glitch in the postal system, which delayed the arrival of the first book, Covenant sent me a second copy. After I finished reading the second copy, the first copy meandered its way into my mailbox. Since I don’t want to appear too greedy by hoarding both books, I’ll be giving one copy away, so stay tuned to find out how you can win Jennie’s latest bestseller.

Jennie Hansen is one of the most accomplished writers in the LDS market. Shudder is her 21st published novel. That’s seriously impressive. At the 2007 Whitney Awards gala, Jennie received a Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2008, her historical novel, The Ruby, was a Whitney Award finalist for Best Historical. As well as penning her own novels, Jennie reviews LDS fiction for Meridian Magazine.

Her newest novel, Shudder, contains lots of chills, along with some delightful characters—and some extremely creepy characters who need to look the word “conscience” up in the dictionary. “Shudder” is right—that’s what some of these characters will make you do.

The main character, Darcy is strong, smart, and determined to do what’s right, even when that brings her into conflict with her beloved friend and roommate, Claire. Claire’s boyfriend, Blaine, is a manipulative, abusive jerk. Darcy is appalled to see her friend falling further and further into a bad situation, but she’s helpless to wake Claire up to what a jerk Blaine is. When Blaine insists on moving into their apartment—over Darcy’s vehement protests—Darcy moves out.

I had trouble relating to Claire, which stems from the fact that I’ve never been close to anyone who was involved in an abusive relationship. Jennie, however, has known people in that situation, as she explains in the acknowledgments, and I have no doubt that Claire is accurately drawn. Claire is emotionally vulnerable and has issues stemming from her background; she convinces herself that Blaine represents something she desperately wants—a family of her own. I think it would have helped me relate to Claire if I could have seen a little more of the “good” parts of Blaine’s personality—the charm and tenderness that would allow Claire to think she loved him. I like the way Jennie introduces Blaine's family--it's not hard to see how Blaine turned out like he did, considering his background.

The characters on the good-guy team are thoroughly likable and down-to-earth. Darcy’s love interest, high school coach David Schoenfeld, is an awesomely nice guy, and I like the way Jennie develops their romance naturally, starting with a solid foundation of friendship and common interests. Romance in books is so much more romantic when it’s realistic and involves the brain as well as the hormones. Darcy and David are an appealing and believable couple.

After Darcy moves out of her apartment, David helps her find a new living situation with Karlene, a woman recovering from an automobile accident. Karlene swears the accident was no accident. Someone tried to kill her. It quickly becomes clear that Karlene is right—she’s the target of a killer who is going to try again and again until he succeeds. When he thinks Darcy is the key to finding Karlene, Darcy and David end up in mortal danger. The mystery of who is after Karlene and why forms another layer of suspense to the story, interweaving with the story of Claire and Blaine.

Head to Jennie's website for a peek at the first chapter of Shudder. And don’t you find it amazing how multitalented Jennie is in writing such a wide variety of books? Westerns, historicals, suspense—wow!

And now, for today’s contest. 2009 is drawing to a close, and only one and a half months remain in which to nominate your favorite novels by LDS authors for the 2009 Whitney Awards. Have you read any novels by LDS authors that you feel deserved a Whitney nomination? If so, have you nominated them? Post a comment in the comment trail telling me if you’ve nominated a book for a Whitney (you don’t have to name titles, unless you want to).

And if you tell me the name of your favorite Jennie Hansen book (or of a Jennie Hansen book you'd like to read), I’ll enter you in the drawing twice.

And if you add a birthday wish for Julie, I’ll enter you in the drawing three times. But it can’t just be “Happy birthday.” It needs to be a specific wish--for example: “Julie, I wish for you a chocolate cheesecake with raspberry sauce, whipped cream, and those little curls of chocolate on the top.”


Monday, November 16, 2009

You Have to Convince Yourself First

Saturday night, I had the chance to a speak to a NaNoWriMo group. (For those in the non-writing crowd, that’s National Novel Writing Month.) We talked about a lot of things, but one thing that we discussed has stuck with me since. The question was asked, “What advice can you give us that will help us push through writing 50,000 words in a month?”

Of course there are many answers relating to outlining, plotting, perseverance, etc. But the thing that occurred to me first is belief. As an author, you are going to have to sell your work to a lot of people. You sell it to your agent, your agent sells it to an editor, the editor sells it to the committee, the publisher sells it to the reps, who sell it to . . .

You get the idea. All along this path there is not only the chance—but the likelihood—of multiple rejections. Unless you are the very rare exception, you are going to have people tell you, “This story did not work for me.” How are you going to react to that?

Depends on what you believe. When I was twelve, my family moved from the bay area of northern California, to New Jersey. I wasn’t the most confident kid, and for whatever reason, moving to the East Coast only exacerbated the problem. By the time I started high school, I had almost no friends, and lost myself in books. I believed I was quiet at best, and probably a loser. Does it surprise you that most everyone I knew looked at me the same way?

Fast forward to the summer before my junior year. My family moved back to California—San Jose to be exact. I was painfully shy, and had very little confidence. But an odd thing happened. The second day of school , everyone in drama had to try out for the Fall play. Amazingly, I landed the male lead in the Woody Allen play, “Don’t Drink the Water.” I was the exact same kid I had been three months before. I didn’t grow six inches, or learn to dance, or discover I sparkled in the sun. But getting that part flipped a switch inside me. I viewed myself differently. I wasn’t the shy, quiet boy, who always had his head in a book and got beat up way too many times to count. I was the guy who got the lead. I was part of a group. Because I believed in myself, other people believed in me too.

Writing is a funny thing. The creation of a story is done in the most private of places—your head. But then you have to take it out in the bright sunlight and show it to people who often will tell you, “Meh,”, and much, much, worse. How much, “meh” can you take before you start looking at your own work and saying, “They’re right. This stinks. I’m a lousy writer?” And once you tell yourself that, how long can you keep on writing? And if you do keep writing, how much can your own voice come through?

Good writing requires confidence. It requires forgetting what the “good” writer in your critique group sounds like. It requires ignoring the voice inside you that warns you to you’ll never be as good as the writer of the book on your nightstand. Good writing requires a belief in yourself that nothing can shake. A belief so strong that even when your writing feels like it’s not the best, you keep going. If you believe in yourself enough, you’ll stop trying to copy whatever you just read and listen to the voice inside you.

So how to you start believing in yourself, when the voices inside you have some serious doubts? Here are a couple of ideas.

1) Stop comparing your first draft to the polished novel by the best-selling author you love. For one thing, that best-selling author probably wrote some crap before they got that good. For another thing, the book had three, four, or a dozen rewrites. It went through some of the best editors money can buy. Comparing your work to a best-selling novel is like comparing a chunk of rock to a polished diamond.

2) Give yourself permission to write some crap. You are not going to paint a masterpiece the first time you pick up a paint brush. So why should your first manuscript be the one that sells for a million dollars? Unless you’ve produced some garbage, you won’t be able to recognize the good stuff when you write it. The person who goes back and rewrites every chapter to death, will never finish a novel. And the person who does not finish their novel, can never make it better. The time will come when you can sit down and write a couple thousand words and say, “Yep, that’s pretty good stuff.” But it won’t come without practice.

3) Go to Goodreads or some other book review site and find a scathing review of an author you admire. Print it out and put it on the wall next to your desk.

4) Beside the review print out a page of your very best work. Every time you start to feel depressed, look at the bad review and remind yourself that no one can please everyone. Then read your page and remind yourself that the person who wrote that has real talent.

5) Give yourself permission to skip a section or a chapter when things aren’t working. Stuck on what should happen after the butler find the dead body? Write a placeholder that says something like, “Put something really cool here.” Then move on to the chapter you do know. Pretty soon an idea will come for what should go back where you put the note.

6) Don’t set word goals when you are struggling. Set scene goals. If I told you that you had an hour to write a thousand words right now, could you do it? Would you feel pressure? If you only wrote 700 words would you feel like a failure? What if I told you to write a scene where a boy and girl discover that their father has been killing and eating their pet rabbits. If I gave you enough details and dialogue, could you write it? Do the same with your work in progress. Instead of saying, “I will write 1500 words,” decide exactly the scene you want to write. Sit at your desk and see the scene in your mind. Then write it to the best f your ability.

7) Finally, find what works for you and stick with it. One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that starting a chapter cold is like starting a bike ride in 12th gear at the base of a hill. It’s much easier to get going if you have a little start first. Same with writing. Instead of stopping when you finish a chapter, write two hundred more words while you’re in a groove. That will give you a head start when you sit back down the next day.

Writing can be a tough business. None of the questions are right or wrong, and all the “teachers” grade on different things. For every gold star placed on your forehead, you’ll find a dozen red check marks on your paper. You are going to have people who tell you you stink—and maybe you even do, we all stink at times. But if you can sell yourself on the fact that you are a writer who will one day be published, sooner or later other people will believe it too.


Your Poopy Tale

by Sariah S. Wilson

I've been elbow deep in the results of a very disgusting stomach bug this past week. The baby has this lovely explosive diarrhea that would go from his knees to his neck. On Friday I changed his clothes NINE times. I actually cheered for joy on Sunday at the sight of his first non-diarrhea poopy diaper (never thought that would happen!) My daughter expressed her sickness by random vomiting. All over the inside of the car (twice), in a Kroger, outside of my son's school, and lots and lots of places here at the house.

Thus, no blogging.

So in honor of my fabulous past week/weekend, I invite you to share you own disgusting/funny/unbelievable childhood tales of poopy.

To get things started - I think we've had it all - poop all over the walls next to the crib, I've been peed on and pooped on by every child in this house, pooping in the bathtub, etc., but probably my funniest (which I'm sure won't translate well) was when I was changing my youngest in our family room late at night. My husband and I had been watching a movie together and I had to get up and change the baby. My husband sat on the couch still watching the movie, while I had moved over to an armchair with the baby across my lap. At the moment I took off the baby's diaper, he managed to pass gas and poop at the same time, which made it shoot across the room and onto the side of my husband's face. I've never had a simultaneous experience of being so grossed out but laughing hysterically. My husband ran to the kitchen sink, trying to wipe it off, but we were both laughing so hard we could barely breathe. Now I'm careful to point the baby's business end away from any potential targets.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Friends or Lovers? (Can We Say Lovers On This Blog?)

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I’m a little hesitant to bring this up, because I don’t know if I’ll be able to communicate my thoughts properly in a blog. But I want to try.

I watch a television show (a cop show that shall remain nameless) where the two main characters are male and female. They’ve been described as “best friends,” “extremely close,” and “emotionally dependent on each other.” However, it’s never been romantic. Every once in a while we see the protectiveness and deep caring they have for each other and that gets all the online boards buzzing about whether there’s more between them than they are admitting.

So I had an idea for a book that had two best friends as the lead characters, but I was going to keep them as best friends. No romance. Yet, when I was talking to another friend of mine, she gave me several reasons why I can’t do that. Here’s sort of how the conversation went.

“So I’m thinking of making my new novel about a guy and a girl who are best friends that get involved in an international cover-up. But they’re just friends. No romance.”

“But they get romantic later on in the book, right?”

“No, no romance at all. Just friends.”

(snort of laughter) “There’s no such thing as just friends. Someone always feels more. And besides, it’s an LDS fiction book. The romance is a given. Wanting to see how they get together is what we read for! And wouldn’t you feel bad since all your other books had romance in them? You’d be cheating your readers.”

So as I thought about her comments, it all boiled down to three things.

1. From my previous novels, my readers apparently have an expectation of romance with the suspense. They might feel cheated if I don’t write a romance in.

2. There is a perception that LDS fiction usually has the guy and the girl getting together in the end of the book or series. She felt that wanting to see how the characters got together was a main motivation for readers. There’s never really an “if” in LDS fiction because it’s a given. (Is that true? I was honestly trying to think of an LDS fiction book where the two main characters didn’t get together or have a hint of romance. I couldn’t come up with one that I’d read recently. Can you think of one?) Do you agree that the romantic element is a main motivation for LDS readers?

3. It won’t be realistic because single men and women can’t truly just be friends. Some claim that they can, others say it’s impossible. But it can be difficult to write without writing an undercurrent of more than friends. But do you want to write an undercurrent of more than friends because that’s what people are reading for and wondering about? It would keep them turning pages, but then it might make them mad when there’s no payoff in the end and they’re still just friends.

So, with TV it’s all about the ratings and the buzz. The ‘are they more than friends’ mentality keeps people (women, mostly) tuning in week after week to see if there are any more “moments” that could be construed as more. (I’m sure the majority of male fans are just tuning in for the cop part of the show.) But with a book, it’s a different story. Sort of. Don’t you want your readers to wonder about your characters and keep turning pages to see what’s going to happen with the main characters? Or, because of previous expectations, is it wrong to have no romance when you’ve written romance in before? Is love the essential element in making a good story?

Love makes the world go ‘round, but is romantic love the one needed thing in an LDS fiction book? And do readers expect that? Is my best friends book doomed before I start it because they're only friends and not lovers? (Can I say lover on this blog? If I can't just cover your eyes and pretend you didn't read that part.)

Friends vs. *whispers* Lovers (or more than friends for our gentle readers.) In a compelling story, does it really matter?


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's a Sickness

by Stephanie Black

First of all, HUGE congrats to the immensely talented Rob Wells on getting an awesome agent! I can't wait to read his YA sci fi novel!

Now for today’s confession: I’m addicted to Goodreads reviews. Not to writing reviews—as I blogged about a while back, I’m not a good reviewer when it comes to negative reviews. In the LDS market, chances are I either know the author personally, have interacted with him/her online, or know people who know him/her. I would shrivel into a tiny ball of guilt knowing the author knows that I thought his/her book was disappointing and said so publicly. That would make for a nice topic of conversation when we’re sitting next to each other at the next writer’s conference. And yeah, I’d bet those last few Lindor Balls sitting on top of my fridge that, if asked, the author would say that he was grateful for my candor, and it’s good to know what to improve on, or whatever blather authors give to pretend we like the fact that someone said our book stunk for X, Y, and Z reasons. But I’d be willing to bet the entire bag of Lindor Balls that I’m planning to buy next time I’m at Costco (I have a coupon!) that beneath the polite and proper response, the author would be feeling pretty stung. I’d rather not go there. (Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that I think only positive reviews should be posted. I’m just saying don’t ask me to write the negative ones).

Anyway, my Goodreads problem involves checking my own ratings. I keep looking, every day—more than once a day—to see if anyone has posted new ratings/reviews on my new book.

It’s a sickness.

And I think I’m getting crabbier over the whole review/rating thing. When I feel defensive and snappish because a good rating includes a mild criticism, I’ve got a problem. It’s time to quit wallowing in this. So, um, does anyone have any suggestions for breaking a review reading addiction? Am I the only one with this problem?

At least checking Goodreads lets you see that even wildly successful authors have critics. They may have sold a bazillion books and achieved worldwide acclaim, but there is still someone who disliked the book and is going to say so. JK Rowling has some one-star reviews. Mary Higgins Clark has some very harsh comments. So when someone says something that stings, well, I know I’m not alone.

In a compilation entitled Writing Mysteries, writer Jan Burke stated, “I’ve never understood why people who fear negative comments want to be published. I can only imagine they’ve never had a job that brings them into contact with the public. Once you’re published, any clown with a library card can tell you what he thinks of your book. To get almost anything worthwhile done in this life, you have to risk disapproval. Writing is no different.”

When you publish a book, you do risk disapproval. No matter how many readers love your work, sooner or later someone is going to come along, think your book is a two-star read, and say so. But the joy of creating stories--and hearing from the readers who do love your work--is worth the occasional negative comment.

Which still doesn't solve my Goodreads obsession, so if you want to help cure me, send suggestions. And Lindor Balls.


Update: The News

So, it's now pretty much official. I have an agent for my YA sci-fi book. It's Sara Crowe, with Harvey Klinger Agency. I'm all sorts of pleased. She's sold a lot of good stuff lately, and she seems like a really great person as well.


Missing

This would have been three weeks without a blog from me! Readership had been going through the roof!

The first missed week I had a legitimate excuse: I was at the World Fantasy Convention. This week (today) I also had a legitimate excuse: I've been away from the internets all day. Last week, however, I was just lazy.

I don't have much to say today, because it's late and nothing notable really happens in my life. However, I do want to say this: I have some interesting news that I'm not going to tell you. I will hopefully be official soon, but for now let me just say this: it's neat. (I know what you're thinking, and no, I didn't get a job. Frankly, that's kind of a ridiculous guess and you should be embarrassed for suggesting it.) Anyway, when the news is official, I'll post and let you know.


Monday, November 09, 2009

Happy One Year Anniversary

I got a call today from a previous co-worker congratulating me on a year of writing full time, or as we in the industry like to call it, living hand-to-mouth. Wow, has it really been twelve months since I put my family’s finances in the hands of the American book-buying publics? Apparently so. In honor of that, I thought I would list the top ten things I have learned from a year of writing fulltime.

10) Nothing comes as easy as you think. And if it did you probably wouldn’t appreciate it. Many years ago, I read a Q&A with a fulltime author who hadn’t held a “real” job since he was in his early twenties. He stated that writing is just like any other job. What? Really? Are there a lot of other jobs out there with no commute, that let you set your own hours, that pay once every six months, with no guaranteed income, and that are up for renewal pretty much every year? Do those jobs allow you to decide what you will do that day and pay you for thinking up crazy ideas? If so, yeah, writing is just like every other 9-5 job.

Clearly this guy did not appreciate the struggle of working full time and then coming home to your “other” job. He either didn’t experience or had forgotten the pain of rejection and the fear of never making it. Yeah, I know it’s tough trying to break into the market. And it isn’t magically perfect once you get there. But it’s the pain of the journey that lets you appreciate the destination.

9) Full time writer is not an occupation for people without a lot of internal drive and willpower. When you only have an hour to write, you have to get to it. You don’t have time to waste. You dream of how much you could accomplish if writing was your only occupation. Then when it is, you suddenly find a million things to do other than write. If you don’t treat writing with the same dedication as a full time job, it won’t stay one for long.

8) For most fulltime writers, the actual writing is less than a third of what you do. The rest of the time is spent on all the marketing efforts that actually sell what you write. Yeah, I know most people know of a writer whose publisher takes care of all the marketing details, but those are the small minority. And even they spend a lot of time on blogs, tours, conferences, e-mail, and all that good stuff.

7) You need to make a lot more money than you think to make ends meet. That’s because you are paying everything your company used to pay: insurance, social security, office equipment. Plus every time you travel or eat on the road or make a phone call or print a post card or send a letter, that comes out of your pocket. Plan on needing to make 1 ½ times as much as you used to make.

6) Some of the things you least expect end up being the greatest experiences. Like:




Going to a school where a boy is painted blue and has white hair because he is a character from your book.








Meeting a real Land Elemental







Meeting a bunch of junior high students that are actually excited about reading and writing.









Getting invited to play a game with the student who made it, and . . .












Realizing it's the game of Trill Stones from your book!







5) It’s still cool as heck to wear the same jeans and t-shirt to work for three days just because you can.

4) You get to receive e-mails like this:
Dear J. Scott Savage, hello! This is Sarah, from xxxx Junior High School. I was your hero in your story when you were telling the audience how to write their own stories? Well, you had my best friend, a zombie, kill me! Ha Ha Ha just kidding. Anyway, I was just writing this email to tell you that I am very glad you cam e to our school. You came to my school last year, xxxxx Elementary. But I just wanted to tell you thank you for inspiring me. When you cam e to my school last year, you got me thinking, "I can write my own story and possibly become an author?" Wow, that was a huge surprise. I had no idea that a small town girl like me could do something that big. Since that time you told me that, I've written 1 book, it's called "Seventh Grade Secrets" and it's more of a realistic fiction book. I'm working on another book, it's a fantasy book. I am so happy that you were able to tell me that. I was talking to my homeroom teacher about you, and I had realized that you had been my inspiration all along. Thank you so much, for helping me gain courage in myself. I hope I can meet you again.

3) People ask all the time if your hand cramps up from doing long signings, but having done tons of “signings” where I signed no books at all, I will never ever complain about a signing that goes for three hours.

2) A lot of times you forget that the rest of the world is still going to work every day. You forget how lucky you are to get paid to do what you love, even if the pay is not as regular as you’d like. But every so often you have absolutely magical moment where you get up, have a glass of juice, head into the office and go, “Whoa my job today is to write something that will make people’s jaws drop. How cool is that?”

1) To quote somebody or the other, “There must be a better job than writing, but I’m having too much fun to spend time looking for it.”


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Your First Romance

by Sariah S. Wilson

My oldest son has finally read my books.

This, he informed me, is solely due to him not having enough to read. He reads as quickly as I do, and devours books on a daily basis. It is hard to keep up with that kind of appetite.

I know this, because I used to be him.

I would read and re-read my books (he's gone through the entire "Harry Potter" series seven times. Which I am reminded of in moments such as last night, while watching the movie "Rudy" together, he laughed when he saw the opening credits and someone on the crew was named Oliver Wood. It took me a minute to get it). I also got into fantasy because of the book devouring - my father is a fan and I started off with Terry Brooks' "Sword of Shannara" (a series which I got my husband hooked on as well, and am embarrassed to admit we seriously considered the name Shannara for our daughter).

But it is my mom we have to blame for my current writing predilection. Because after I'd gone through most of the books in the house, I found my mother's romance novels.

Now, back then, romance novels were still (on the whole) pretty clean (of course there were exceptions, but the majority, particularly the Harlequins, were still sweet).

I remember the first romance I ever read. It was a Harlequin, and it had a ruthless Greek shipping tycoon as the hero, and a red-headed spunky heroine. Their conflict was that he had destroyed her father financially, and she would never, ever forgive him.

I was totally caught up in it. That cad! How could he? And how could she be attracted to him? Even if he was totally gorgeous?

But then they had an honest conversation and it was revealed...that he had no hand in her father's financial failure, could prove that this was so, and her heart melted like an ice cube in July.

And then, THEN, he told her that he loved her! What? This handsome, charming, intelligent, sophisticated, worldly, wealthy man loved her? Wow! I couldn't believe it. My heart thrilled at the idea that such a thing could happen (I'm pretty sure I was like 12 or 13). Both the heroine and I were shocked and happy, especially since she had fallen in love with him too. And he wanted to marry her. Happy day!

I was excited for my next romance. Only this time...this time it wasn't very exciting. It just wasn't the same.

My son read my first book and came in bouncing to tell me that he had loved it, that I was an awesome writer, even better than JK Rowling (his words, I promise, not mine because I happen to know that is not true, but I think it was the highest praise that he could ever give me). I asked him what his favorite part was, thinking it would be some of the action or fight scenes, and he told me it was when they were going to get married. "I couldn't believe they loved each other!"

Books 2 and 3 held no such appeal for him and he asked me what was with all the stupid lovey-dovey junk. I'm pretty sure he only finished #2 because he had nothing else to read.

I remember telling my mom that her romance novels were stupid. I was educated in AP/Honors English classes and as I constantly studied the classics and learned all the ways they were vastly superior to popular fiction (although I am of the opinion that anyone who requires another student to read "Jude the Obscure" should be horsewhipped. "Done because we were too many" is a line from a horrific scene in that book that has stuck with me almost 20 years that I would very much like to erase from my mind). I'm pretty sure I lectured her on how she wasn't reading quality fiction and how she was missing out.

But I noticed, as I read, that I always wanted to know more about the people who fell in love. And how much I adored when we read Jane Austen - here there were finally people who got to fall in love and it was the entire point of the story! Awesome!

In fiction I had the same issue. I wanted the romance and more of it. Yeah, I was interested in the world blowing up or aliens kidnapping dogs, but I wanted to get more of the hero and heroine together as they fell in love.

I tried reading a couple of romances in college from LDS authors, and...I wasn't happy. Definite wall bangers. Plus, I was so busy missing classes and forgetting to go to the testing center for tests that I just didn't have time to read anything for enjoyment.

Particularly after the semester where I took six classes in my major (history) so I could finish on time. Six history classes. Do you have any idea the amount of reading involved with six history classes?

I remember reading being ruined for me. I didn't want to pick up another book and pick it apart, looking for themes and motifs and foreshadowing and symbolism and metaphors - I just wanted to read.

And when I was ready...I gravitated to romances. I started reading them, and I started writing them. I'm pretty sure I could write other genres (my dad has some great ideas for suspense/thrillers), but I'm not really sure that I want to. This is what I love.

So for anyone who reads romance (on purpose), do you remember the first romance you read? What sorts of romance do you like to read now?


Friday, November 06, 2009

Is "Real" Life Depressing?

by Kerry Blair

My oldest son is taking a class in creative writing at Arizona State. He is more into the whole "writing thing" than I ever was -- or could ever be. Because Scott is as analytical as he is creative, he calls or writes after every class to discuss the whys and wherefores of the craft. Frankly, he hasn't changed much over the years. As a child, he couldn't just watch mutant teenage turtles execute impossible ninja moves, he had to verbally explore the concept of good vs. evil in the sewers, discuss character motivation and development, and enlist my aid in dissecting every plot line. (That last thing wasn't too hard, what with them all being pretty much the same.) When he wanted to know what the big rat represented, metaphorically speaking, I locked myself in the bathroom until the series ended and he moved on to Babylon 5. (Finally! Modern electronic lit worth talking about!)

Recently, he has been exposed to a great deal of short fiction that he's found rather depressing. Since he's about to give up on me for spirited conversation -- let alone insightful, intelligent response -- he suggested that perhaps I open the issue up to blogdom in hopes that some of you would discuss it all with him. He wrote:

Realistic fiction short stories (especially in my writing class) tend to have negative endings. I asked my teacher why and she decided that would make a good class discussion. She wrote: Scott brought up an interesting question, and I'd like us to consider it as a class. In response to some of the stories we've read for class and to many of the stories written for workshop, Scott wonders, Can realistic fiction be written with generally upbeat characters and end "and they lived happily ever after?" He says, "It bothers me that I can't remember any attempts or examples of realistic fiction stories that help the reader hope, love, or just generally be happy." What do you guys think? Do you agree with Scott? Are stories generally sad? Why or why not? Can you think of a "happy" story? Is it easy to apply these labels to stories? In thinking about this, it might help to reconsider why we read fiction, or what you think stories try to do/express."

With about a third of the class responding thus far, no one has been able to come up with a single example of "happy" realistic fiction. Instead they've written things like "One forgets his sorrows in weeping for another." (William Butler Yeats)

Me again. So, what think ye? Let's not only consider short stories -- there aren't enough published to really discuss -- but fiction in general. Over the last twenty years I've watched a broad swath of mainstream young adult fiction take a nose dive into depressing "realism." While Janette Rallison (bless her!) has been Playing the Field, and Taking the Ex Out of Ex-Boyfriend -- and others have turned our thoughts toward magic -- many highly acclaimed writers have been exploring date rape, depression, teenage pregnancy, incest, and suicide. What with it being almost impossible to pull "happily-ever-after" scenarios out of those topics, they mostly don't try. What are they trying to express to the youth of the world, do you think?

And, not to further depress myself, but don't you sometimes think there is a growing tendency in our market to lean toward the Yeats camp? How often is popular LDS fiction -- even that dealing with sensitive issues -- dismissed as "fluff" because of "sugar coating" or endings of "unrealistic" salvation and/or hope? Must novels be "edgy" to also be "real"? If man is to have joy, and we know that, why are we then suspicious of it when we find it in novels?

Final questions: Why do we read fiction? What do we hope to accomplish in writing it? Scott needs to know. And I'm a little curious now myself.


Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Title of Julie

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I have an announcement.

*drum roll please*

The name of my new book that is being released in the spring has been handed down from the powers that be at Covenant. It will not be anything that I chose or suggested, (which is sort of sad for me because I have been able to name all of my novels so far and I had gotten attached to the one I’d given to this one, but oh well) and the new name will be:


DANGEROUS CONNECTIONS


Ta-da!

What do you think? Does it sound suspenseful? This is the book that takes place in France so I think it sort of reminds me of Dangerous Liaisons, but oh well. The book is about a French DGSE agent who comes upon information about an imminent terrorist attack, but before she can get the intel out, she is caught and imprisoned. Her brother comes to save her, he is shot and needs a doctor, and they meet up with, yep, you guessed it, Tyler Winthrop from my book All’s Fair. Tyler gets caught up in the international espionage and makes a few dangerous connections, so I guess that’s where the title is coming from. It’s growing on me. I heard that if you say the title a thousand times you’ll love it. I’m working on that. I’m sure I’ll love it once I see it on the cover. There’s something about the cover with the title that always makes it look good. (I hope I didn’t jinx it by saying that.)

So, in book production news, we’re moving right along. I’ve been working on the character guides and pronunciation guides for Dangerous Connections (it will be released in April I heard) and it’s always fun to go through your manuscript and write down every character that speaks in your novel and what you think their voice sounds like. It’s not easy to come up with descriptions after a while, especially if you have a large cast. You have strong voices, firm voices, powerful voices, whiny voices, pinched voices, stressed voices, etc. etc., but sometimes there are voices that are hard to describe. I think I need to start training myself to listen to voices and describing them. That will make this process easier, I think, and only scorch my brain when I try to do it, instead of fry it altogether.

Doing the pronunciation guides for me hasn’t been a picnic either because I have a lot of foreign language stuff in my books. The last book had a lot of Iraqi names and places in it, and to tell you the truth, I don’t have Iraqi dictionaries in my home, so I turned to the net. I learned a lot by doing that, actually, and can now pronounce a lot of words that make me sound smart at parties. The new book has a lot of French in it, and thankfully I already speak French so that wasn’t as hard (and a big thank you to my editor friend Meredith who is fluent in French and double checked all my stuff!) Making it something that a potentially non-French-speaking reader can pronounce was a bit dicey, but at least I knew what I was talking about this time and could make things clear. At least I think I did. We’ll see if the reader thinks so.

I’m really excited for the new book to come out and thrilled that it will be on CD as well. There is just something about listening to my book that gives me goosebumps. Hearing someone read the words that come from my imagination is an experience only matched by when I saw my book actually on a store shelf for the first time. It’s surreal, to be sure, and something to write in the journal.

So there you have it. Dangerous Connections. Think about it. Love it or hate it. But look for it in stores in April 2010.

Merci beaucoup.


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Boo!


by Stephanie Black

In the immortal words of Charlie Brown, “Well, another Halloween has come and gone.” Which brings up the question—what kind of a neighborhood does that boy live in, anyway? I mean, honestly—rocks?

The Charlie Brown special is pretty depressing story-wise—poor Linus—but I still like it because it looks so Halloweeny—pumpkins and ghosts and colorful fall leaves and other cool visuals. I’ve always loved Halloween and Halloween decorations—the cute ones, not the icky ones. I really would prefer not to decorate with anything that simulates dripping blood or severed or decomposing anything. My youngest daughter gets freaked out by the gory decorations in stores, though as she gets older, she’s less easily rattled. And this year she could watch the Charlie Brown special without crying. Last year, she hated it--not because Lucy is a major snot and Linus misses trick-or-treating, but because of the part where Snoopy is the World War I Flying Ace and Schroeder plays the songs that make him homesick and he cries. She’s very sensitive to the moods of music.

This year’s costume roster for the offspring was as follows: fairy queen, skeleton, rugby player (though his ears were intact, so it wasn't completely authentic), Little Red Riding Hood, cat. The Red Riding Hood and cat costumes were worn by the same teenage daughter, one when she was helping out at the Stake Halloween Carnival, and once when she was working Boo at the Zoo. She also got to dress up as the zoo mascot, an alligator whose name escapes me, and lead the costume parade. She had fun wearing the giant alligator costume and having little kids come hug her around the knees.

Speaking of the trunk-or-treat, this had become a huge event. The stake has a big carnival followed by the trunk-or-treat. There’s only one problem: holy moley, it takes a TON of candy for that many trick-or-treaters. I brought somewhere between 250-300 Tootsie Pops this year and we blew through them in about 25 minutes. One of these years, I’m going to resort to handing out single Smarties. Not single rolls of Smarties. One Smartie each. The next year I’ll do individual Tic-Tacs, followed by single grains of sugar.

There are no sugar shortages around our house this year, but, sadly, there are no more Reese's Peanut Butter cups in my candy bowl. Note to self: next time, make sure the candy-hander-outers put the Reese’s into the bowl last.

My sons got big hauls of candy from trick-or-treating this year (my older daughters are too old for trick-or-treating—one is at college, and the other stayed home to hand out candy) and my youngest daughter petered out after a while—she’s young and she was a little sick (a cold that morphed into croup). But my youngest son hauled home six pounds of candy, and my oldest had seven. Good thing they apparently inherited their father's strong teeth.



Hmm . . . I'm feeling pretty hungry, and we have some Almond Joys left . . . or I could have an apple . . .