Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Subtle Blend of Light and Dark

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I recently bought a Simon Dewey painting that I’d been eyeing for months. It’s a painting of Christ, holding a child on his lap, with another one next to him, and they are on a shore with two boats full of fisherman in the background. It has a beautiful sunrise and faraway mountains, with some clouds in the sky, and to me, it is full of symbolism. But the thing that caught my eye from the very beginning was the way the picture plays with the light and dark. The shades are so subtle, which also makes the light look warm, real, and alive.

I think that’s how it is with our writing. Good characters have subtle shades of darkness in them, flaws that make them real, and make us care about them. The darkness that is shown in the character will generally blend with the light of a character’s personality, showing the humor, and bringing forth the feeling that these characters are three-dimensional and could be real. When we see the shades of darkness, the shades of light look even more warm and alive and give a character, a relationship, and a story depth and range that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. I think that, as a reader, that is what attracts me to fiction---those stories that make me care and relate to the main characters, and stories that let me go through a problem or some difficulty with the character in a realistic way. When I close the book I can feel like I’ve really experienced the book instead of just reading it.

As a writer, it is my job to provide that for my readers. I want to find those shades of gray, and to contrast and blend the light and darkness within my characters to bring them to life. Brandon Mull once said that without great characters you don’t have a story, and you want characters your readers can connect with. All of us have our quirks, our failures, our flaws, but in addition, we also have endurance, talents, and humor. So when I am writing, I get to know my characters, where they are coming from, what their reactions are, and what they are dealing with so that I can connect with them, as well as connect them to my readers. I think that once that blend is established with the light and dark some story elements seem to more easily come together and gives a direction I might now have previously had with the story. It’s such a good feeling to have because you know when it happens. You can feel when your characters have that extra oomph that they needed.

Just like the light and dark of my painting makes it look as real as a photograph, it is the same for the feeling of reality in a book’s characters and story that make those who read it sit up and take a second look.

(That being said, I finally got my hands on Josi Kilpack’s Key Lime Pie and I can’t wait to dig in. And if you haven’t read Josi’s series, with Lemon Tart, English Trifle, and Devil’s Food Cake, then you should run out right now and buy them all. Hurry, before the stores close. Her culinary mysteries are really good, with great characters, mouth-watering recipes, witty dialogue, and a mystery that will make you second, third and even fourth-guess yourself.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Characters as Works in Progress

by Stephanie Black

A big thank you to everyone who suggested titles for my work-in-progress! I really appreciate all the suggestions, both serious and funny. The winner of the drawing, chosen by random number generator, is . . . Linda! Congratulations, Linda! Send your snail mail address to and let me know which of my books you’d like (here’s a link to my website where you can read about the books). Now for the working title: I have decided to use the title suggested by Anon #1: Rearview Mirror. It fits the story on a number of levels: the car accident, the way trouble from the past keeps haunting the heroine, and the heroine’s difficulty in looking forward instead of backward. So, thank you, Anon! If you don’t mind identifying yourself, email me and let me know what book you want.

In last week’s blog I talked about some of the things I needed to fix in my next draft, such as Stupid Heroine Syndrome and thin characterization. Yesterday, I got an email from a friend in which he commented that my blog about my second draft had intrigued him. “I had assumed one would have to have that sort of thing fixed up by the 2nd draft,” he said (he’s currently working on his first novel, and thus was curious about how I operated). Yes, I can see how you'd think I’d have all that worked out—I mean, what kind of crud-fests are my early drafts anyway?—but I don’t. It takes me a while to get everything about the story and characters developed and finalized. I can’t write a book without multiple drafts, developing the story and characters as I go. That’s how my brain works.

Writers can be very different in how they work. A method that is effective for one writer might drive another writer bananas or shut down his creativity altogether. I suspect that my multi-draft find-the-story-and-characters-by-writing-them method would drive a very organized writer insane. It would also unhinge a writer who hates revision and wants the first draft clean enough that revision is minimal. But, for me, it works and it lets my creativity flow. Plus, I don’t mind revision. I love revision. I would go insane if I had to have every detail of the story and characters planned before I wrote it. In fact, I don’t think I could write a successful novel that way at all. I'd never be able to think up all those facets of plot and character before I had the story itself to spark my creativity. On the flip side, I do need a rough outline and some info about the characters to get me started—I can’t comprehend the method of just sitting down to see where your characters lead you. How in the world do you even know what to write? I’d be stumped. But my outline is just a jumping-off point—boy is it ever just a jumping-off point; I just went back to glance at my outline for this novel and good grief, I really changed the plot. I wonder if I have another outline in a different file?). Anyway, my point is that as a writer, you find what works for you. There’s no right or wrong way to do this.

I read through the second draft of my WIP and ended up with two and a half pages of scrawled notes. Here are few examples (with names changed to protect the guilty):

What happened at Sally and Joe’s last meeting? (backstory issue)

Sally needs to obsess less over Mary and Bob (character issue)

Joe’s dialogue needs to be classier/formal (character issue)

Seems like Lisa needs a reason, beyond Barbara’s words, to suspect S and J—she knows Barbara is a nut (backstory issue)

Pull back on Sally’s realization that she’s in love with Bob—don’t bring it on too soon (plot/character issue).

Kelly’s mother is a caricature—need to round her out (character issue)

So yes, plenty of character and backstory issues, among other things. I much prefer having a draft to work with and draw upon for ideas, as opposed to trying to create something out of the air. For example: one issue right now is that the hero is too good. He needs some flaws. At one point in the story, it becomes important to the plot that the hero loses his cell phone. Hmm. Maybe there’s the seed of a potential flaw here? Maybe he’s disorganized or absentminded? Maybe, maybe not, but the plot provides a possibility for character rounding. Here’s another example of the way character development can spring from plot needs: I want the heroine to stay in her home, even after some things happen that might make someone else run for the hills. Therefore, I need to make it logical that she would stay. How can I make this work? Maybe that home is very important to her. Does it represent her independence, her psychological health, her ability to care for herself, her safe haven? How she feels about her home could form an interesting facet of her character, giving her depth. I started bringing out that character trait at the end of the second draft, but if I want it to work, I need to thread it through the story. I love it when character and plot intertwine like that, and the needs of the plot spark ideas for adding another layer to a character. Plot can push me to deepen a character to make the story credible--for instance, the troubled ex-boyfriend isn't much of a prize right now. His character needs to be rounded by the addition of appealing traits so the reader can understand why the heroine once thought she was in love with him.

How about you? Are your second drafts pretty much submission-ready? Or, like me, do you need more time to develop the layers and threads of your story before you hand it to your test-readers or editor?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

3 New Fall Shows: Meh

I find Fall TV to be an interesting phenomenon. We go into it expecting most of it to be terrible, and that most of the new shows will be canceled within a few months. Entertainment magazines and bloggers make predictions about what will be first on the chopping block. I understand all about Sturgeon's Law (that 90% of everything is crud), but I still have to wonder why TV networks can get things so wrong so regularly. Is the answer just that making TV shows is really hard? Or is it that TV studios are really stupid?

Anyway, I've been watching more TV than I would like lately. Which is not to say that I don't like watching TV, but that I haven't been sleeping much this last week (due to a cold that didn't let me breathe when I laid down, and also due to a baby who is currently for sale.) (Cheap!)

A few thoughts on the new season. I'll quite likely spoil things without warning (or regret).

The Event

The premise of this show is surprisingly simple for being a big conspiracy show. There are two main plots: one has a twenty-something guy who's trying to find his kidnapped girlfriend (whilst being framed for a murder), and the other has the President of the United States dealing with some aliens in an Alaskan prison. The aliens have powers, they look like humans, they've infiltrated society. And so on.

So, it's going to be more long-form mystery/conspiracy stuff. The question is: will it be good, like the first season of Heroes, or will it suck, like all the other seasons of Heroes? Will it be layered and complex, like Lost, or will it be a cheap mystery/conspiracy knock-off, like FlashForward? My answer: almost certainly the latter.

Here's the biggest problem with The Event: they don't have enough ideas. The structure is great and fun, how they bounce around through the time line to see different things from different angles. But here's the problem with that: the different viewpoints don't reveal anything significantly different.

For example: we knew that Leila (the aforementioned girlfriend) was kidnapped from her room on the cruise ship. The show had explained that, it had inferred that, and then we saw her with the kidnappers. But then we have a flashback where we get to watch it happen--for no reason whatsoever. Both of the episodes so far have been full of this kind of thing: flashbacks that reveal nothing, give no clues, no additional insights. It's like they have 20 minutes of good material (well, "good" material) and then they have pad the rest of the hour with repeated, obvious fluff.

All of that said, I don't hate the show and I'll probably give it a few more weeks to find its feet before I give up. I don't know why. I think it's because the actors are likable. There's nothing about the show that's really making me mad--just making me sad. You've disappointed me, The Event. I expected more from you. I want you to think about what you've done. (Or not done.)

Survey says: I'll give it another few episodes.

Hawaii Five-O

As the well-known theme music came on, my baby said "Gramma". The point of this story is to show you how adorably cute my little baby is, and how obsessed my mother is--my parents' NetFlix queue is an endless string of Hawaii Five-0 discs.

Despite that, I am not too familiar with the old show. I watched a few episodes, but not enough that I really knew all the characters. Which, it turns out, is just fine because the new show doesn't have much to do with the old one.

One of my biggest pet peeves with cop shows is the complete disregard for reality. I'm not talking about nitpicky stuff about the details of police procedure--I'm talking about the big stuff that gets cases thrown out of court: illegal searches, beating up suspects for information, shooting indiscriminately. We, the viewing public, are not idiots--we know these basics of the law--and yet most cop shows (NCIS, Criminal Minds, Bones, Law and Order: SVU, CSI, etc) all ignore these things completely. And--SPOILERS!!!--so does Hawaii Five-0.

Here's the really weird thing about the show: the characters are all bland stereotypes, especially the main character, Steve McGarrett. But Danno is really interesting. It amazes me that the same writers who created everything else also created him. (My guess: it has more to do with the actor than the writers.) (Neat trivia: the actor is James Caan's son!)

Survey says: no thanks.


This is a show about US Marshals who are tracking down bad guys. The end. That's all you need to know.

And actually, that's just fine, because every time that they take a break from the plot to focus on the characters--such as the interaction between the marshals when they're eating breakfast--makes me want the bad guys to shoot them all.

I missed the first episode, but the only redeeming quality to the second episode was the bad guy, played awesomely by Robert LaSardo. Alas, the bad guy was captured and won't be in other episodes.

Survey says: Meh. I'll probably treat this show like I treat Bones: if it's on, and it's late at night, and the remote is too far from my hand, I'll watch it.

I think that's all the new fall shows that I've watched so far. I'll try to catch up on some of the others and blog again if any of them are any good. (Unlikely.)

What have you guys been watching?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Author: The Job that Never Ends

by Kerry Blair

There’s a funny thing about being an author: you can’t stop. Oh, you can stop writing, I’m proof of that. You can walk away from a keyboard—if not the stories in your head. You can list “homemaker” on your tax forms and when people ask what you—an empty nester—do you can reply with a smile, “Oh, I’m a professional leech.” (The reaction is usually delicious.) You can even ignore your blog for more than a year and your website longer. But you just can’t stop being an author.

I know. I’ve tried.

It’s not that being an author is embarrassing, exactly. It’s an honest, if arduous, profession. But there remains something about the title that often unnerves me. Like in church. The first week we attended our new ward I leaned over an empty seat in Sunday School to introduce myself to the woman sitting closest. Instead of murmuring the customary, “Nice to meet you” or “Welcome to the ward” she said, “Kerry Blair. Why do I know that name?”

What do you say to that? I shrugged, feeling like this generation’s Typhoid Kerry.

Later in Relief Society I silently memorized another ward’s members’ birthdays on the bulletin board while one sister behind me explained to the others in her row, “You know, she’s that author.”

She might as well have said “ostrich.” I almost turned around to deny it. For sure I wished I were a dentist.

But no, I am an author and will be forever, I guess, whether I publish again or not. Once those books are “out there” they are out there and there is no calling them back.

Not that I want to.

Even though I have not published for years, I get three or four e-mails a week reminding me that once upon a time I wrote—and Covenant passed out—fairytales. This week, along with complying with a request for the epilogue to Closing In, I carried on two correspondences that truly pierced my heart with their kindness.

First, an incredibly dear young woman with way too much time on her hands got 78 of her cyberfriends to sign a “petition” to bring back Samantha Shade. Since I will soon have a little time on my hands myself, I committed to revisiting the third mostly-finished novel and sending out copies in e-book form. Second, I received an e-mail from a representative of a much smaller group (as in three or four sisters and/or sisters-in-law) wanting to know if I had any plans to continue the “Heart” series. Requests like these never cease to amaze me—especially the latter.

More than a decade ago I published my first novel, The Heart Has Its Reasons. (Give me a break, guys; romance was king . . . er, queen? . . . in LDS publishing then. “Suspense” was mostly wondering when the nonmember character would be baptized.) Not only was that darn book full of adverbs and purple prose, the breakneck changes in POV were responsible for several reported cases of mental whiplash. (An Anonymous friend once noted that the only head I didn’t drop into was that of the duck. I don’t know how I missed him . . . ) Nevertheless, since series were also big at the turn of the century, two more books in the same vein followed. So here’s the thing. Anybody in the whole world who can read more than 900 not-very-well-written pages about a ballplayer and then ask me for more is immediately inducted into my venerated Hall of Name. (Names not-to-be-forgotten, that is.) More than responding with my thanks, I prayed that she might be blessed for her far-reaching thoughtfulness in writing.

A deep gratitude for appreciative readers is something I share with most of the authors I know. Whenever people take the time to reach out to us, we realize again how marvelous and even miraculous it is to be an author. As writers, we move on—to new chapters, new characters, new genres, maybe even new explorations of life--leaving our previous work behind. Yet the awe remains in knowing that at any moment someone new might open the cover of an old book to find everything just as we left it. They, of course, supply the magic. It is within the imagination of a reader that every story comes to life.

God bless them, every one.

And, since it is pretty much a given that our teeth are buried along with the rest of us, maybe that dentist thing isn’t so great. Maybe we all ought to stick with being "that author" as long as we possibly can.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Book Academy Changed My Life

by Julie Coulter Bellon

The UVU Book Academy Writers Conference is one week away. After all the months of planning, it’s finally here! As most of you know, this is our second year doing this conference and I think it’s one of the best in the valley. For me, it’s my motivation. It gets me excited and motivated to dig back into whatever project I’m working on at the time. Plus, I get to see a lot of my writer friends that I don’t see very often. And I get to meet a lot of new people who quickly become friends.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to another author, Tiffany Fletcher, and she mentioned to me that the Book Academy had changed her life. After she’d told me her story, I asked if she wouldn’t mind writing it down and letting me share it with you, especially since some of you who read this blog are aspiring authors. She agreed to share, so, here it is, in her own words.

"The Book Academy changed my life! My husband was planning on attending The Book Academy with his students and asked me if I wanted to come along. It had been two years since I had written my manuscript, “Mother Had a Secret” and I had already received several rejections, including a rejection from Covenant Communications. My husband kept insisting that he felt I should attend and asked me to read the bios of all of the professionals who would be in attendance. The night before the event, my husband directed me to the Academy’s website where I saw the bio of Kathy Jenkins, senior editor at Covenant Communications. In her bio, it mentioned that she sat on the board of Mental Health for her county. Immediately, I knew that I had to attend. My book is about my relationship with my mother who was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder.

Armed with nothing more than a notebook, and a firm determination that I was going to do whatever it took to speak to Kathy Jenkins in person, I paid the fees and accompanied my husband and his students to The Book Academy. I attended several classes, including a class on pitching books to the media, taught by Kelly Smurthwaite, publicist for Covenant Communications. Kelly asked if anyone wanted to pitch their book, and I immediately shot up my hand. I had come to promote my manuscript and I felt that this was a good opportunity. After I pitched my book, there were many intrigued, which gave me added courage to accomplish my reason for being there, to speak to Kathy Jenkins.

At lunch, Kelly sat at my table and we discussed more about my book and what I could do to catch a publisher’s attention. During the lunch, Kathy Jenkins sat on a panel of experts, answering questions. After the luncheon was over, and after everyone was dispersing to their next class, I quickly approached Kathy as she was leaving the room. I began by telling her of my mother and of the book that I wrote. I mentioned that Covenant had already rejected it once, but that I really felt that she should give it another chance. Kathy agreed, stating that they had just changed their submission guidelines and that they were now accepting narrative non-fiction. She asked me to send it to Covenant again, and to put her name on it.

It took four months for Covenant to review the manuscript, but in January, I received a call that the board of directors wanted to meet with me. A week later, the manuscript was accepted for publication. Exactly one year after that meeting at the Book Academy, my book has been released and I have been the recipient of many incredible opportunities that I would have never otherwise experienced.

What I love about The Book Academy is that it creates an environment where professionals and writers can meet. The conference allows writers the platform for success, but it is up to us, individually, to take advantage of the opportunities that are there. If I hadn’t have got up the courage to approach Kathy Jenkins, she would have walked right out of that room, not even knowing that I was there. The Book Academy provides the backdrop for success, but it is up to us to shine."

Tiffany Fletcher (author of Mother Had a Secret)

What I liked most about Tiffany’s story is that she took the opportunities that were afforded to her and made the most of them. She knew who she wanted to talk to, she talked to other professionals about the right way to do it, and she did it. And what a wonderful outcome it had for Tiffany. But most of all, I really believe in what Tiffany said, that conferences like the Book Academy provide the platform for writers and professionals to meet, yet, it’s up to the individual to take the opportunity. Of course, as writers we’re used to taking chances and we know it can be scary, but who knows, it may change your life if you do!

If you haven’t already signed up for the Book Academy Conference, you can do so here.

Hopefully, I’ll see you there!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Draft Two! And It's Title Time

by Stephanie Black

Yesterday, I officially finished the second draft of my current work in progress. “Officially” means I have declared it done, even though, yeah, I know there’s THAT issue I need to deal with (THAT issue is for draft three). See, I’ve got a little problem with Stupid Heroine Syndrome. You know the drill—you need the heroine to get herself in a serious pickle so you can have that exciting climactic confrontation with the villain where the heroine nearly gets killed—or maybe she DOES get killed, eh? No spoilers here. Maybe she DOES die, and the ending of the story takes place in the spirit world, where she meets this hunky guy who was BFFs with Captain Moroni . . . anyway, where was I? Stupid heroines. She needs to get herself in danger, but right now, her getting in danger kind of makes her look dumber than a bag of dirt. You want the reader cheering her on, not thinking wow, sister, if you’re that clueless, I’ll root for the villain. So I need to do some tweaking.

Another thing I need to deal with: characterization. Right now the hero is a big, hero-shaped pancake. He’s a really nice pancake, but he could use some depth. The villain also needs work. When he was wisecracking at the climax, I realized, whoa, wait a second. This guy is not a wisecracker. So I changed that, but I still don’t have my head really wrapped around who he is. And I have a bunch of research questions I need answered. Furthermore, I’m afraid the book might be a bit flabby. Draft two clocked in at nearly 106K, and I still have stuff I need to add. Chances are, there’s some fat in there that I could trim—wordiness, repetitiveness, that description of the Paris sewers, the exposition on the whiteness of the whale, etc.

I printed out the book so I can read it through, start to finish. It’s amazing how different it is reading a manuscript straight through than it is working through it slowly. That first read-through is a moment-of-truth experience—how well is the story working? It will be interesting (I hope interesting in a good sense, not interesting in a holy moly what a train wreck sense) I shrank the font and single-spaced to save ink and paper, since it’s a reading copy for my eyes only, but sadly, I forgot to change the font color and thus emptied my black ink cartridge. Phooey.

When I hit draft three, I like to have a working title. Thus, in keeping with tradition, it’s title time! I’d love some title suggestions from our blog readers. The suggestions don’t have to be brilliant. They can even be goofy.

So far, I’m fifty-fifty on titles—twice, Covenant has kept the working titles I submitted with the book and twice they’ve changed them. So if you submit a really groovy title, hey, maybe it’ll end up on the cover. Who knows? Everyone who suggests a title gets entered into a drawing for one of my books. If I decide to use your title suggestion, I’ll send you a book as well. Here's a little blurb about the book:

Fiona Claridge wants nothing more than to stay burrowed in her peaceful, solitary life, teaching at a small New England college and filling her evening hours with work on her fixer-upper house. It’s almost enough to keep at bay the guilt she feels about the death of her roommate in a car accident six years earlier. But when an angry student decides to use reminders of the accident against her and a troubled ex-boyfriend starts edging back into her life, her peace shatters. Someone doesn’t want her free of her painful past—they want her dead.

As of right now, I don’t have a single title idea in my head, so I’m excited to hear your ideas. All suggestions are welcome!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You Don't Get To See My Cover Yet

Neener neener.

I got to see my cover last week. It's not the final version--it's a preliminary comp, which means that the layout and images are really close to what it will eventually look like, but not finalized. Consequently, I'm not allowed to spread it around or display it online; I only have a hard copy, and I have to mail it back to Harper on Thursday.

But, let me just say: Holy Awesome. This is a fantastic cover. I knew that Harper has good designers, but I was really blown away by this. Sure, maybe some of that can be chalked up to the excitement of seeing my first big national book cover, but I think more of it has to do with the fact that the cover is RAD.

By coincidence, a podcast that I adore (and all aspiring writers ought to listen to), Litopia, addressed the topic of covers last week. One of the guests complained about how covers (genre covers in particular) are becoming too cliche; another complained about covers that don't represent the content of the book--that they mislead you into buying the books. Examples were given and debate was had, and no one really came to any conclusion about anything. But it got me thinking.

I'm not a graphic designer, but I am a marketer, and the cover is, above all else, a marketing tool. It's designed with the sole purpose of getting you to pick the book up. From this marketing standpoint, I can see a little of both sides of the argument. Misleading covers are used because they get your attention--"Hey! A book about airships!"--and then maybe you'll read the backcover to find out what the book is actually about, and maybe you'll buy it. Cliches are used in book covers because it snugly shoehorns a book into a certain genre. (And, despite what everyone claims, we're all swayed and affected by covers. We like things to be categorized for us, because it's easier for us to make value judgments. We all judge books by their covers all the time, even though we pretend not to. We may very well do it subconciously, but we still do it.)

I'm not defending the use of cliches and misleading covers, merely explaining them. (But in some ways I'm defending them, too. When Brandon Sanderson received the deal of the century--getting to finish the Wheel of Time series--I ribbed him a bit about getting famous Wheel of Time cover art. The art, seen here, is by a guy called Darrell Sweet, and he's done all of the covers since the beginning, and I think they're horrid. Brandon, however, was much more circumspect. He said that Darrell Sweet's art means something to readers. I--not a Wheel of Time fan--might find the art ugly/cliche/whatever, but to WoT fans, Sweet's art is a stamp of authenticity. Brandon explained to me that many fantasy writers would love to get Sweet's artwork on their cover, because it connects with a certain demographic of readers.)

But enough of that. I want to talk a little about the covers of my previous books.

Here's my first book, On Second Thought. Despite the fact that the image is taken directly, with no modifications, from GettyImages, the cover is pretty good. It accurately shows elements from the story (the businessman in the desert) and also elements of the theme (the lack of direction and the impending need for decisions to be made). While the cover doesn't scream "comedy!" (and definitely doesn't scream "rom-com"), it certainly has a bit of whimsy to it.

Here's my second book. *Shudder*

I don't think that there is much happening in favor of this cover. First, the image has nothing to do with the story. There is no character in the book who is ever dressed in a suit (the main character is a slacker college student), and there is no reason for anyone to have his head in the sand. And, if you're thinking this must be a metaphor--as evidenced by the title--then you're wrong there, too. The title has nothing to do with the story or the theme.

Also, this cover is really, atrociously ugly. Would it surprise you to learn that this book has the highest GoodReads ratings of all my books, yet sold the worst (by far)?

My third book has a great cover, in my opinion. It conveys both the tone of the book as well as the showing a vital set piece (the Arch de Triumph). And, if my second book sold the worst, how do you think this one sold? Close to three times as well. Yes, Virginia, people really do judge books by their covers.

All of that said, I'm happy to announce that my upcoming cover is fantastic: neither cliche nor misleading, but still managing to be both artistically beautiful and a humdinger of a marketing piece. Hopefully I can show you the finalized version soon.

So, what are your thoughts about covers? Do they influence your reading/buying decisions? (Also: let me know what covers you love!)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Exhaustion Trumps Creativity

So we still haven't quite settled in yet. There are still lots of boxes that need to be unpacked (but today I finished putting my food storage in my part of my mom's pantry. Yay!) and houses that we need to look at and kids that still don't have a new routine and are literally waking up every hour of the night because they're 1) still not accustomed to being here; 2) scared of the dark (and the basement room, despite having windows, is still very dark); 3) sick; 4) could possibly be out to make sure that I never get three hours of consecutive sleep again as punishment for the major disruption in their lives.

As I just put the kids in bed and remembered that I needed to blog today, I'm drawing a massive blank. There's nothing in my head except how much I want to sleep.

What did you do as a writer when you go through patches like this? Do you still write? Are you still creative? Or does your exhaustion take everything out of you?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Alas & Alack ~ Also Woe is Me

by Kerry Blair

“Alas!” I moan, swooning into the brocade chair behind my writing desk. “How disconsolate am I!”

Gazing upon my practically perfect new salon, I should be the happiest of women. The windows are tall, arched, and multi-paned. The walls are an attractive brick and moss green. The floor is wood, covered by a small rug that feels like velvet beneath my feet. With the coming of autumn’s cool mornings, heat will pour forth from a charming cast-iron stove. The furnishings are all Victorian and include an elegant settee, beautifully operational Victrola, Civil War-era rocker and quilt, wicker baby carriage filled with ferns, small lawyer’s cabinet with antique books, and the comfy, aforementioned chair and desk. (When my son first saw the room he asked where I keep the time machine. A new little neighbor girl wonders why I live in a museum.) It is the “office” for which I have pined all my life.


I can no longer commune with the world outside my cozy walls. Mind you, I did not intend to plunge headlong into 1900 without a necessity or two plucked from the 21st century. I craftily concealed a computer tower behind some greenery and secreted a wireless keyboard in a handy drawer. The monitor masquerades as a watercolor when not monitoring.) Alas! (Yet again.) Despite my brilliant design, it turns out my machine, modern as it is, receives no Internet service here in “the country.” (This despite a hundred dollars in house calls, and multiple consultations with supposed experts.) I have struggled along thus for two weeks now and have grown lonely, morose . . . and did I mention disconsolate? I haven’t read a blog in a fortnight. (Including this one. Is everyone still alive?) I can access e-mail through the miracle of cell phone communication, but only if the messages are very short and contain no ads or attachments. I dare not reply. The mere thought of trying to communicate by use of a keyboard the size of a tablespoon brings on the vapors. Thus, I am left this morning to face the stark, unforgiving reality: I will be an author, and blogger, no longer.

I shall retire to my settee to languish.

But, wait! Here at my fingertips is the January 1895 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. (A fine publication; I urge you to subscribe. Of course, I haven’t read an issue newer than, say, 1921.) Perusing its contents I suddenly realize that Mary Jameson Judah didn’t need a computer to write “An Adventure of a Lady of Quality.” And didn’t clever Katrina Trask pen “Beyond. A Story” with, I presume, a pen? Ah! A glimmer of hope! I have several jars of ink and a fair supply of quills on yonder geese. Moreover, I have six or eight pencils and sheaf upon sheaf of good white paper. As long as I boast, I’ll draw your notice to my top-of-the-line (in 1910) typing machine. Not that I can depress its keys. (Do you have any idea how strong-of-finger our predecessors must have been?) By some method, I can yet write!

And another thing is certain: I have thoroughly tired of being the slacker around here. (Perish the thought I usurp Rob from the one thing he’s particularly good at!) I will return to blogging post haste!

This leaves us only to smooth out the details of delivery. If my remembrance of “cyber hits” on the Frog Site serves me, the cost of standard post to each of you will far exceed my weekly egg-money . . . what to do . . . what to do . . . Eureka! I have it! Each of you need only dispatch toward Central Arizona a hale and hearty carrier pigeon before Thursday next. Thus will you continue to receive my freshly-penned blogs on a weekly basis. (Sorry, no owls will be accepted. The chickens fear owls.) You may, of course, comment as always by return-pigeon.

I am anxious to renew our acquaintances. Please don’t let me down.

Note: This notice courtesy of the one person I know in all the countryside with Internet connection. My deepest thanks.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Staring At the Walls

by Julie Coulter Bellon

While I’ve been on bedrest for pregnancy complications, I’ve had a lot of time to think. I’ve thought about all the things I should be doing, have planned to do, and wanted to do before this baby came. But the baby belly rules all, and for now, we are stuck in bed on bedrest no matter how many things were on the calendar.

As you can imagine, bedrest is somewhat difficult for me. There is nothing remotely interesting on television in the daytime. I have a tiny iPod to keep me connected to the internet, and I am begging my husband to get a laptop up and running for me so I don’t go insane. There’s just not a lot of things to do but stare at the walls. And that is boring.

So, in trying to be more positive, I’ve been looking for the good things about bedrest. For instance, after staring at the walls, I’ve decided we need to repaint our bedroom because the white paint is monotonous. Of course we can’t do that right now, but I have been thinking through all kinds of remodeling ideas. So far my husband doesn’t seem exactly thrilled. He just keeps looking at the corner with my ginormous pile of books in front of the bookcase (they don’t all fit so I made a tower pile) and sort of muttering under his breath. However, I did relieve some of that can’t-fit-in-the-bookcase book pile and made a book pile on my nightstand of books I haven’t read yet. I even started to read some of them. And I’ve also learned to type on a tiny little keyboard on my iPod and hardly have any mistakes. (Or if they’re there I can’t see them because the type is sort of tiny, too.) I have also discovered author Shannon Hale’s blog. She is expecting twins and is on bedrest herself and she blogs about it every day. Her perspective is upbeat and pretty funny, and I’ve really enjoyed her bedrest blog because I can identify with it. You can read one of her entries that made me laugh here

But the very best part of bedrest for me is that I’ve had a ton of cuddle time with my two year old because she loves to climb up on my bed and have me read her books to her.

However, bedrest has also given me some perspective on other things that are going on in my life. I have a really fun booksigning coming up that I don’t want to miss. I am on the planning committee for the UVU Book Academy Conference on Sept. 30 and I’m also presenting there, and I don’t want to miss that. I am chairman of the board of directors for LDStorymakers and there is a lot of work to be done and I don’t want to miss any deadlines for things that are coming up. I am still an instructor at BYU and I have deadlines there that I can’t miss. And I’m sort of working on a new manuscript. But when it comes right down to it, none of those things really matter in the long run. They are important, but if I missed any of them, the reality is, there are others who could take my place and pick up the slack for as long as was needed.

So, as I lay here, I try to put the thoughts away of everything I need/have/want to do and instead concentrate on feeling my sweet baby move within me. It makes it all seem worth it when I do that because of the overwhelming feelings of awe at how much I love this baby already and how much I want him to be here safe and healthy and for him to meet the family who is praying for him and can’t wait to meet him.

That isn’t to say I’m not still bored being in bed all day and wish I had something really awesome to do. I offered to be a test reader for Rob Wells’ book Variant, but he didn’t reply so I’m guessing that’s a no. It would probably be too scary for me anyway. Maybe I could see if Jeff Savage needs a test reader for Demon Spawn. Or maybe I should beg my husband to go down to Seagull and see if Traci Abramson’s new book is on the shelf yet. I doubt anyone would even notice one more book on my beloved book pile, right?

If you’ve ever been on bedrest, what did you do? Anything awesome?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What I Learned from Brandon Sanderson

by Stephanie Black

My daughter messaged me on Gmail chat the other day—one of my daughters who lives in the house with me, mind you, not the one who’s off at college (instant messaging: today’s way of shouting, “Hey, Mom!”). Her message INVOLVED A LOT OF CAPS. Stop shouting, I told her, but she was beside herself with excitement. She’d just discovered that the very next day, Brandon Sanderson—excuse me, I mean BRANDON SANDERSON—was coming to a bookstore in San Francisco. Can you look up when and where, I asked her, to which she responded, “here!!!!!!!! aaaaaa” which, while it conveys her feelings, is a little hard to plug into Google Maps. So she came up with a bookstore—Borderland Books— and an address. “you knoooow you want to,” she messaged to me. “you knooow we want a copy of Way of Kings anyway.” Truth is, I did kinda want to go—I mean, come on, it’s Brandon Sanderson. How totally cool is that? But going to San Francisco is something of a production. Takes about an hour to get there, and I very, very rarely drive in SF—when we go up there, my husband drives. I don’t like city driving—I’m a suburbanite to the bone and inordinately fond of parking places, of which SF does not have an abundance. But my husband plugged the address into Google and found out that—oh happy day!—the bookstore was only a few blocks from a BART station (that’s the train, for any of you picturing the Simpsons). We could take the train and then walk—much less stressful for me than driving up there and trying to find somewhere to leave the minivan. Plus—bonus news!—the bookstore was only a couple of blocks from our favorite San Francisco bakery, Tartine. You may now take a moment to think about frangipane tarts and chocolate éclairs and envy us.

Okay, where was I? We arrived at the bookstore about half an hour early, and it’s a good thing we did, because already there was a line at the register to purchase The Way of Kings, and already the seats were all filled. Yes, we are Brandon Sanderson Booksigning Novices and didn’t realize how early we’d need to arrive. We ended up standing in the back, but we were there early enough to have a good view.

Brandon read from The Way of Kings, did a Q and A, and then a signing. Throughout the event, he was friendly, funny, articulate, interesting, and personable. Given the size of the crowd, the signing took a long time. I started to worry that the nearby bakery would close before my daughter got her books signed (now you know how my mind works. As Rob would say after consuming a vat of Coke and a bacon grease smoothie, don’t judge me!). I slipped away, bought a bunch of goodies, and returned while my daughter was still waiting. Of course, now I had a big white bakery box and felt somewhat silly carrying it around the bookstore, so I slipped it into my tote bag, which reduced the silliness factor by a hair—the box was concealed, but now I had to carry my bag horizontally so I didn’t smash the pastries. So I still looked goofy (why is that woman carrying her book bag flat like that?), but perhaps slightly less piggy.

The exciting moment arrived—hooray!—and it was our turn to talk to Brandon. He signed my daughter’s books and talked with us for a moment, and the bookstore lady, seeing that I had a camera with me, kindly offered to take our picture. I was extremely impressed with how Brandon took time to talk to each person there, to give them a chance to ask him questions, and just overall to make them feel valued. It was a great example to me of how to treat people—here’s this famous author with a big crowd all eager to meet him, and he takes the time to make sure every person feels important. It was like when I met him for the first time at the Whitney Awards gala a couple of years ago. I was all nervous and excited and asked him if I could have his autograph for my daughter--he kindly signed a Whitney program for me--and he asked me about my book and I was super impressed with how nice he was.

It’ll be one heck of a far distant day if I ever have a signing that draws people like Brandon Sanderson does, but no matter how many or how few people come to see me, I hope I can follow Brandon’s example of making sure everyone knows how much I appreciate them. Heck, that’s a good policy to follow no matter what I'm doing or where I am. So, thanks, Brandon, not only for sharing your talents, but for being such a nice guy.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My Revision Wish

As you should be able to tell from the picture above, I've been scrambling over the last week to finish the second round of revisions for VARIANT. I'll leave it to you to decide whether I'm a poor housekeeper or an aspartame addict. (Answer: both.)

This latest revision wasn't too bad. We sorted out all the major plot issues in the last revision, so 90% of this one was little things: word choice and clunky sentence structure and removing repetition.

However, there was one big character issue: there was a main character who had made a sort of unexplained leap in his character arc. I needed to go back and revisit this change of mindset and show more clearly why he made the decision he did, and what motivated him. This, in my mind, is the worst kind of revision.

Here's the deal: I've read and reread this book a million times in the last year, and I know the characters inside out. So, when I'm working on them, it's really hard for me to view it like a reader. I know the twists, I know the ending, I know everything about the characters, so it's all the more difficult for me see it from a reader's perspective.

This, of course, is where it's handy to have test readers. The only problem is that after a year of revising and editing and rewriting, I've pretty much gone through all of my usual test readers. They've read it and given feedback, and I've spoiled them for future reading: no longer can I ask them "Was this scary?" "Did you see the twist coming?" or "What do you think of this character?" They already know the twists and the characters, so they're no longer blank slates.

And even if they haven't read if before, test reading takes time. If I'm only going in to tweak a few paragraphs, then having someone read the entire book just to find out if I solved the problem is horribly inefficient.

Several years ago I worked for Weyerhaeuser as a structural designer. I'd use a computer to build a 3-D frame of a house--I'd lay out the beams and the joists and the headers and such, and then I'd hit the TEST button. The computer would hum and think and calculate, and in a few minutes it would churn out a list a errors: a beam is too small, or a bearing too narrow, or a cantilever is too long. In less than five minutes I'd know whether or not the structural plan "works".

So why can't we have that for books, dang it!? I want to change a couple sentences, and then hit TEST, and have the computer give me a list "The tension is rated: 6.6, the romance is 4.5, and the villians rates as 8.6 for creepiness and 7.4 for ickiness."

Computer programmers--you have your mission! Go!

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Good Agent is Worth His Weight in Cheese Steak

Crazy day, left SLC this morning and just got into Philly, (actually Cherry Hill, NJ, but close enough.) So no long post today. But I do want to give you a quick update on Demon Spawn, and make a comment.

Talked to my agent for the first time after he’d read the complete manuscript. The good news is he LOVED everything except two chapters. The even better news is that the more I think about what he said about those two chapters, the more excited I get to rewrite them. They are going to give the story so much more kick at a very key point. Even though it’s late, I really want to get started on the changes.

I often hear authors complain about their agents or editors. We see things a certain way, and it’s hard for us to change what we love. I haven’t agreed with everything my editors or agents have told me, but I think long and hard before I disagree. And the main thing I think about is how their suggestions can make my story stronger. It’s not always obvious (although this time it was.) But you really have to step out of your author shoes, put on your reader shoes, and try to look at your story through the eyes of someone who doesn’t have the story in his or her head.

Open your mind and try to imagine how the editor or agent is viewing the story. Then ask yourself how making their suggested changes (even if you don’t completely agree) could make a stronger story than you have now. If you can see any chance of how that might happen, they are probably right. If you can’t see how you can make the changes without weakening the story, then go back and discuss what the problem is and how else you might address it.

The agent or editor isn’t always right, but 9 times out of 10 when they spot a problem, they are correct. As the builder of worlds, it’s up to you to see the flaw they have recognized and turn it into a strength. The final copy we'll take to publishers is getting so close I can taste it. Or maybe it's just the cheese steak!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Best Thing About Utah So Far

Of course, living near family will always be the number one (and primary motivator) best thing about being in Utah.

But today, while shopping for a new fridge, the sales guy asked what I did for a living. I told him I was an author. He asked what I had written and I told him he probably hadn't heard of me. "No, your name seems familiar. What are the names of the books you've written?"

I rattled them off, and he pounced on "Servant To A King." That's his girlfriend's favorite book and he was excited to tell her that he'd sold me a fridge today.

That was made of awesomeness.

And I needed that, considering that everything else about this move has been nightmarish to the extreme (the details of which I will not bore you with here; suffice it to say that anything that could go wrong so far has), and I still can't wrap my mind around the fact that I'm actually living in Utah and have to find a house somewhere and I'm not really sure where to look that we can afford a house and has a great school district and is in close proximity to the freeway.

Any and all suggestions are still welcome. We have time to look - I'm just not really sure where to even begin.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Beware the Reach of Stephanie Black

by Julie Coulter Bellon

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I couldn’t read Stephanie Black’s book, Cold as Ice, at night anymore because I was afraid that the creepiness factor would give me nightmares. Well, I have been having some insomnia issues, and I couldn’t stand lying there in the dark anymore wishing for sleep, so I turned the lamp on and thought I’d just finish the book. I only had a few chapters to go, and I was anxious to know the end anyway, and how bad could it be? Surely that was worth a nightmare or two.

So I picked up the book, and just as I did, the wind rustled through the window and shook the blinds a little, as if warning me not to do it. I ignored that and opened to the page. The crickets that had been happily chirping a minute ago, suddenly were silent and I felt a little shiver of eeriness go up my back. But I doggedly started to read.

Before I knew it I was on the last chapter, and the end was as good as I knew it would be. Stephanie is an incredibly talented writer and her mysteries keep me guessing every time. I closed the book, with a smile on my face, knowing that I had done it. I had made it through a Stephanie Black book in the dead of night, and I didn’t seem any the worse for wear. I clicked off the lamp and snuggled into my bed. Surely I would be able to sleep now.

Not more than thirty seconds after I thought that thought, the rocking chair in my bedroom began to creak. Not a little creak from the wind, mind you, but a creak like someone was rocking in it. Thinking maybe one of the children had come into my room, I looked over, but there wasn’t anyone in it. Deciding it had just been the wind, I closed my eyes again, but no sooner had I done that, then the creaking started again. Feeling a little more than creeped out, I quickly sat up and turned on the lamp. There was no one there. The rocking chair was empty, but even as I looked at it, it started to slowly rock back and forth, the creaking even louder in the light somehow. Just as I was about to wake my husband, however, our cat came waltzing out from behind the chair, and it seemed to me she had a little smile on her face, like she knew she’d freaked me out. She calmly walked away and I turned off the lamp and laid back down. The mystery of the creaking chair was solved, but the adrenaline was running now, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep at all.

So the moral of my story is, never read Stephanie Black books in the dead of night. And if your pet can be bribed, I have a sneaking suspicion that Stephanie Black would be the kind of author that would definitely bribe them to do something to make her book even more memorable for her readers.

Beware the reach of Stephanie Black.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Writing and Pain

by Stephanie Black

Today, I’ll follow in the footsteps of a few other bloggers (“follow in the footsteps” is code for “be a copycat”) in discussing something experienced by all writers: pain. Julie Wright blogged about the pain associated with writing and how we experience physical and emotional pain in the same area of the brain. Krista Jensen wrote a thought-provoking follow-up blog. And, of course, last week Jeff blogged about Three (Bad) Emotions You’ll Experience as an Author. I’m amused by Jeff’s follow-up comment in Monday’s blog about how some people think being a writer is like hitting your thumb with a hammer over and over again—why do we do this to ourselves? As Daffy Duck once said, “I can’t stand pain. It hurts me.” Well said, Daffy. Nonetheless—we don’t quit. We love to write, and pain is part of the deal. Funny how life is like that.

Try for a moment to picture a writing life devoid of pain. No rejection . . . no cringe-inducing criticism on a manuscript . . . no bad reviews . . . huge royalty checks all the time . . . nothing but adulation and admiration from readers . . . Can anyone think of an author whose career is like that? Neither can I. If you’re an author reading this blog and have never experienced some form of writing-related pain, then send me your address and I will send you a unicorn, a magic wand, and a picture autographed by the Loch Ness Monster.

Even the hugest success-story authors have gotten slammed with rejections or bad reviews or, most often, all of the above. No one totally escapes pain. At some point on that writing journey, you’ll be walking through the dining room, barefoot, and your feet will be cold (it’s worse when they’re cold) and you’ll splinch your toes on the leg of a chair. Or you’ll be carrying a wide piece of furniture through a doorway and you’ll squash your hand between the furniture and the doorframe and scrape off a strip of skin. Or you’ll be running full-speed ahead and, whoa, who put that brick wall here?

There are many times in a writer’s life when you hold your breath, hoping not to get bonked on the head. The biggest breath-hold-a-thon comes when you submit a manuscript and wait to hear back, fearing the Big Ouch—a rejection. Releasing a new book—it’s a thrilling time, but also nerve-wracking as you wait for feedback from readers and reviewers. What will the public say about your book? You know your test readers liked it. You know your publisher liked it—liked it enough to invest money in it, after all. But by this point your publisher kind of seems like your mom—of course they liked it; they’re your publisher. Okay, I know that analogy doesn’t make sense. They didn’t publish your book because you’re their kid and they’ll tape your artwork to the fridge no matter what the picture looks like. They published your book because they thought it was a good investment for their company. But now that it’s been released, you’re desperate for outside validation—for readers to confirm that yep, this is a good one.

That’s been me for the last month—you’d start laughing like a fiend if you knew how many times I checked Goodreads before Cold as Ice even had any ratings (unless you just released a book, in which case you’ve probably checked Goodreads as many times as I have. Haven’t you? Admit it). I’m breathing easier now—the book has gotten enough good ratings and good reviews that I know I haven’t completely fallen on my face this time around. The earliest reviews are the scariest, because you don’t yet have a well of “I loved it!” to sustain you if someone says something negative. Once you’ve gotten some good feedback, it’s like the Tylenol Julie talked about—the negative comments will still hurt, but usually not as much, because you’ll know the negative reviewer’s opinion isn’t universal. Which is not to say that a particularly painful comment, or a review that hits you in a particular way at a particular time won’t still sting like crazy. Last year, after Methods of Madness had been out for many months, I got a review that stung more and stayed with me longer than any other negative review I’ve ever gotten. MofM was a Whitney finalist at the time and I knew plenty of people loved it, but that review still . . . ouch. I think nothing can completely eliminate the pain of having someone announce in what ways they think your book is lacking.

I loved the way Julie Wright wrapped up her blog and I shall quote her:
“It's interesting to think about how many things we don't do--that we REALLY, REALLY want to do, because it might hurt a little.

“It's interesting to think how much more NOT doing those things will ultimately hurt, than the little rejections along the way. The little rejections are temporary--like slivers. Not going after what you really really want?

Now that hurts.”

So we’ll carry on.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Three (Good) Emotions You Will Experience as an Author

By Jeffrey S Savage

Last week, I posted about some of the negative emotions you are likely to experience as an author. I got lots of comments from other authors, saying, “Yes, that’s exactly how it is.” I also got a few e-mails from aspiring authors, or non-authors saying, “Why do you do it? Isn’t it kind of like hitting your thumb over and over with a hammer? Why do something that causes you to feel that way?”

It’s a good question. Of course it’s not like any of these emotions are unique to authors. You can feel depressed, envious, or impatient plenty just living your life. But by becoming an author, you’re almost painting a target on your back saying, “Have at me, World!”

A lot of people give up writing because it’s too much. Which I totally understand. More than once I’ve stood on the very brink of quitting. It’s an attractive thought. Never have to worry about deadlines. Doing whatever I want with my spare time. Taking vacations without my laptop or at least a notebook. Not stressing about word counts.

So why do I keep doing it? Well for every negative there is a positive. Just after becoming depressed because your local bookstore barely displays your books, you read a review like this. After what can be years, finally seeing your book in print can make all the impatience seem worthwhile. Getting an e-mail from someone who loved your story can make the envy go away as you remember that it’s not about who sells the most books, but the joy you can bring even one reader.

Today though, I want to focus not on what happens after you get published. In fact, as Charlie pointed out, many of the bad emotional clouds that swirl around writers’ heads have nothing to do with the act of writing itself, but with what comes after. The whole trying to get an agent/editor/publisher/good review/medium review/any review thing is what can be so frustrating. While so much of the joy comes from the creative process itself. So here are three positive emotions you can expect while writing your story.

1) Surprise

Want to get a bunch of weird looks from your non-writer friends? Tell them about how hard you laughed at something one of your characters said. Or how you cried when a character died. Or how a sacrifice your character made left you in awe. I promise it won’t take long before your pal scratches his or her head and says something like, “You do know you’re making it all up right? Your characters aren’t real. The funny thing? You said it. The death. You killed her.”

It’s only when you talk to your author friends that they nod their heads. You can spend an entire lunch just talking about all the things your characters have done to surprise you over the years. Because it doesn’t matter whether you’re an avid outliner or whether you plot by the seat of your pants. If you get to know your characters well enough, they will do things that seem to come completely out of left field.

In Demon Spawn, I have a sidekick character named Cinder. She’s funny. She has attitude. She’s selfish. Suddenly about halfway through the book, she started doing things I didn’t expect. Not only did her actions surprise me, they also surprised my protagonist. We were both going, “What is with her?” This was the first book I’d outlined, and nowhere in the outline did Cinder act this way. But I went with it—because it felt right. It wasn’t until three or four chapters later that everything came clear.

I’ve written from the perspective of a disillusioned male homicide cop, a twenty year old female newspaper reporter with really weird taste in food, a sixteen year old female demon, a thirteen year old boy in a wheelchair, and many others. Yes, it can get confusing at times. But the one thing I’ve learned is to let my characters show me the way. Being surprised by your characters is awesome.

2) Gratification.

Stephen King compares writing to uncovering fossils. You can envision a scene in your head, and words are the tools you use to unearth for the reader what you are seeing. Sometimes it’s much harder than you thought it would be. That can be frustrating. But we’re talking about positive emotions here. So we’ll focus on the feeling you get when you manage to capture a scene as well or better than you hoped.

In my last Shandra book, the first few chapters are pretty dark. Shandra’s best friend is on life support from a gunshot would he received in her apartment. Bobby’s fiancé doesn’t want Shandra anywhere near his hospital bed. She can’t go back to her apartment. She blames herself. Finally she gets in to see him. I knew we needed a scene that would both lighten the mood and let us get a glimpse into our characters’ pasts. Like I mentioned above, I didn’t know exactly what the scene was, but as I started writing Shandra begins to remind an unconscious Bobby about a time when they raced each other eating giant bowls of ice-cream.

As I realized where the scene was going, I started to get that fragile fossil feeling. Sometimes scenes come so quickly it’s all I can do to keep up with what’s going on in my head. My wife—who is also my first line editor—recognizes these scenes right away because any semblance of spelling or grammar shoots out the window. Wrong words appear. Periods, quotations marks, and commas are completely optional. It’s all about getting the story down while it’s happening, and fixing the typos later.

Then there are times like the ice-cream parlor scene when I know I’m treading on thin ice. First of all, we’re going for the laugh. For me, comedy is much harder than drama. Overdo it and it feels forced. Approach the scene too lightly and the reader may not get it. Not to mention the fact that we are standing at the bedside of a best friend who is at death’s door. Will humor turn the reader off?

This is when I slow way down, setting aside the pick axe and using a soft-bristled brush. I write, check, change, edit, rewrite. When I’m finally done, I first read the whole thing to myself. Does it work for me? Usually I feel like I got maybe fifty percent of the scene uncovered. Back to work again. Finally, I print it out for my wife. Then I go into the other room and listen. Wait. Was that a chuckle? Giggles, I’m sure a heard giggles. A laugh. I earned a full out laugh!

For me, that’s gratification. When I nail a scene well enough that it works for the reader exactly the way I hoped it would. I may not be able to stick a gymnastics flip. But I can stick a scene and it feels great when I do.

3) Accomplishment

When my (now married) daughter was in kindergarten, I ran the St. George Marathon with my dad. As soon as the memories disappear completely, I plan on running another one. I’d like to say I trained properly, ran well, and finished with a great time. But since there is the distinct possibility that my dad, or another member of my family who was present, might read this, I will just say that I finished.

It was not pretty. People with walkers on their way back from therapy passed me in the street. The rescue vans circled ominously around me like flies eyeing a piece of rotting meat on a hot day. I moved so slowly at points that small children asked their parents, “Is that man dead?”

By the time I turned onto the last street, I had less than a quarter mile to go. Even though I was toward the back of the racers, there were still lots of people cheering. Hearing the encouragement, I broke into a painful trot. Although every muscle in my body ached, I couldn’t walk that last stretch. About two hundred yards from the finish, a huge knot popped up on the back of my left calf. Imagine a flaming tennis ball being placed just under your skin and you’ll have some idea how it felt. Somehow, despite the agony, I managed to keep running (in the broadest sense of the word.) Then, a hundred yards from the finish, the same thing happened on the back of my right calf.

I honestly don’t know how I finished the race. I refused to let myself walk, but everything else was pretty much a blur. Later my dad would ask me how I liked the mist spray after the finish line. I had no idea what he was talking about. As soon as they took my number, I collapsed onto the first spot of shady grass I could find. Immediately my wife showed up and asked me how I felt. I begged her to rub my calves. She touched one, pulled back her hand, and in the nicest way possible said something like, “Eew, gross!”

Finishing a book is not usually that bad. In fact, the last few chapters can be some of the most fun to write. You can see the finish line. You know where you are going. Hopefully it’s one of the most exciting parts of your book. I especially love writing epilogues. All the heavy lifting is done, and you’re just putting on the last finishing touches.

But the gratification is the same—whether it’s your first book of your fifteenth. You did it. You finished. Maybe it will need some serious editing. Maybe you limped through parts. There were almost definitely times when you could feel the buzzards circling over your head, waiting for you to give up. But you didn’t quit. You pushed through to the end. When other people say, “I’m going to write a book someday,” you can say, “I already have.” It’s one of the greatest feelings in the world to print out a complete manuscript and think I wrote that. I created it. If it wasn’t for me this story would never have seen the light of day.

So, yeah. There are some rough things about being an author. Things that at very least will put you in a funk and might very well bring you to tears, questioning if you really have what it takes. You know those are coming. So enjoy the good emotions when you can. Instead of being in such a rush to get to the tough parts, savor the good parts. Don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back. When someone starts to give you crap about your messy house or the weeds in your lawn regale them with a charming story about how your protagonist’s old boyfriend slipped and fell in a patch of mud right before his big date with the really annoying character that keeps saying the most hilariously stupid things.

Keep at it until their eyes glaze over and they begin making excuses about having so much to do. Then say casually, “But I’m sure you know the feeling. After all, you’ve written a book, right? Right?”

Thursday, September 02, 2010

A Review of The Fourth Nephite

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I bet you thought I wouldn’t blog today. Ha! I was finishing Jeff Savage’s book, The Fourth Nephite and all I can say is . . .


First of all, as most of you know, I am not a big fan of cliffhangers, but luckily, Jeff Savage doesn’t do that in this book. He does make it obvious that there will be another book, though, and frankly, with as good as this one was, I wish it was out already.

I am trying not to gush here, but there is just something about Jeff’s writing. It pulls you in, it is engaging and it’s just so real! It’s like you’re right there with his main character, Kaleo Steele, being pulled into a situation where you don’t really want to be there, but can’t figure out how to get out of it, and then it all goes wrong and you wish you could turn back time. The setting and descriptions add a great deal to the book and, it’s hard to describe, but somehow each setting sort of feels familiar, like I’ve been there before. It just says so much about the kind of author Jeff is because with the way he writes, it is so easy to put myself there with the character. And speaking of characters, I loved the main character Kaleo because, after having so many teenage boys myself, he is very convincing in how he is portrayed. He is a teenager who is going through doubts about what he knows to be true, the feelings he has about his future and how his character changes and grows throughout the book with the experiences he has. I can’t think of any teenager who doesn’t go through those sorts of feelings at one time or another and the author handles that aspect masterfully.

To be honest, this entire story is different than I thought it would be. For some reason I thought it would be another regular time travel plot, where the main character spends the whole time trying to get home, and trying not to alter something that happened in the past. Like a Mormon Back to the Future or something. Suffice it to say that this book is nothing like I expected. At all. There are twists and turns that I didn’t see coming and I really had a hard time putting the book down because I wanted to see where the author and the main character were going to take the plot thread. It was the same for my twelve year old son who was reading it with me. We both had a hard time stopping at two or three chapters a night, but more than that, this book brought up several discussions about what we would do if we were in the same situation as Kaleo. Those are the kind of books that we love, the ones that make us think and give us a lot to talk about at our Family Book Club.

There are so many good YA books out there right now, but The Fourth Nephite is a great book that really stands out from the rest. It feels authentic and true to life, and it is something entertaining as well as something that makes you think long after you’ve put it down. I also think it is the mark of a gifted writer to be able to make the reader feel like they’ve actually experienced what the main character has and this book has that in spades. The Fourth Nephite has kept us talking about it as a family throughout the entire book, and I can’t wait for the next one to come out.

Definitely a two thumbs up, highly recommended read for both adults and youth who read YA and like a fresh YA plot with great characters. But overall, my son and I both say it is a must-read for youth who love a fantastic story with an original twist that keeps you reading even when you know you’re supposed to be in bed.

The Fourth Nephite
by Jeffrey S. Savage
Published by Deseret Book
The ARC I received was 251 pages with Authors Notes

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


I joined Twitter a few months ago, and I’m still not quite sure I completely get it (of course, I don’t always get the remote control either, so technological advances sometimes elude me). I do tweet—am I using that word correctly?—usually updating a couple of times a day and/or responding to someone else’s tweets—but some things about the Twitter craze are kind of mysterious to me.

I read in a blog that some people feel that courtesy=following people back when they follow you, to which I say . . . huh? If I have someone start following me and I check out their tweets and bio, looking for hints as to why they would follow me (they’re another writer, for instance) and end up simply puzzled as to why in the world they would care about what I have to say, I don’t follow back. Or if their tweets look like a bunch of ad-type things, why would I want to sign up for ads? I thought one of the points of Twitter was that you could follow people without their following in return (unlike Facebook, where you friend each other). I often do follow people back if I can tell we’ve got something in common, but I’m not going to automatically follow back, nor do I expect all the people I follow to follow me.

I also have some difficulty being interested in the tweet blizzards you get from some Twitterers (I’m pretty sure that’s not the right word, but close enough). I started following one person and he/she tweeted so much that I finally unfollowed (whereas if they’d tweeted less frequently, I would have stuck with them). I’m probably missing the point of Twitter entirely to be impatient with tweet blizzards, but sometimes it’s just too much. Since this person hadn’t followed me back, I didn’t feel guilty unfollowing. By contrast, now there’s someone I started following, figuring their tweets would be entertaining, and when I found out I wasn’t interested in most of them—batten down the hatches! Major tweet blizzard!—I felt too guilty to unfollow them, since they’d started following me. So I remain huddled in the tweet blizzard, knowing if I’m going to be this neurotic then I need to learn how to create those list thingies so I can quietly sideline the tweets I don’t really want to see. Yeah, I’m kind of pathetic, I know. But now you know the secret of getting me to keep following you—just follow me back and I’ll feel too guilty to unfollow you, even if you tweet 7000 times per day and never eat or sleep.

The tweets I like the most are the amusing/interesting personal comments or announcements from people I have some kind of connection with, even if I only know them via cyberspace. Rob is someone who uses Twitter in a way that appeals to me. He's blogged about social media before--sorry; I'm way too lazy to find any of his old blogs and link to them now--but he knows what he's doing and I like how he operates on Twitter. I'd follow him even if he hadn't threatened me with social ruin and ostracism if I didn't. I follow a couple of literary agents who are entertaining and interesting. I tried following a major publisher, but unfollowed when I realized I wasn't interested in most of their many tweets. Same with an industry publication. At this rate, I'll never become a champion Twitter person.

So if you’re a Twitter person, what do you think of it? How do you use it? Do you tweet often? Rarely? Whom do you like to follow and why? I’m curious to get some other opinions on this.