Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, July 30, 2010

Romance v. Mystery -- Guest Blog by Linda Weaver Clarke

by Linda Weaver Clarke

I have written five historical romance novels but have changed to mystery. The writing process between romance and mystery is quite a change with a completely different mind set. It’s so different from telling a love story. With romance, you plan out the plot around the meeting of a couple. As you write, you develop some sort of charisma between the characters, making the reader feel excited that one day they're going to hit it off and fall in love. You, as the reader, know what the outcome will be. But with a mystery, the reader is in the dark. The author has to come up with a plot that no one knows about until towards the end of the story and hope they haven’t figured it out. In a mystery, you may or may not allow your reader to know who the bad guys are, according to whether it’s just a mystery or mystery suspense. Do you know the difference between a mystery and a mystery suspense novel? In a mystery, when a knock is heard at the door, the reader doesn't know who's behind it. With mystery suspense, the reader knows who's behind the door and yells to the heroine, "Don't open the door!"

Anasazi Intrigue is the first book in a mystery adventure series called The Adventures of John and Julia Evans. It’s about a devastating flood that takes out several homes in a small town, the importance of preserving ancient artifacts, and a few puzzling and mysterious events. Julia is a reporter, and when she finds out about a possible poison spill that kills some fish and neighbor's pets, she has a feeling that something isn’t quite right. Before she realizes what is happening, Julia finds out that this incident is much bigger and more dangerous than she thought. With dead fish, a devastating flood, and miscreants chasing John and Julia, they have their hands full.

Artifact theft is a very intriguing subject. That’s why I call it the Intrigue series. In my research, I found that archaeological thievery is becoming more and more of a problem every year. Did you know that looting is second onlt to selling illegal drugs? While researching the second book in this series, Mayan Intrigue, my eyes were opened to the problems they have in southern Mexico. When an ancient ruin is discovered, it doesn’t take long for thieves to take it apart. The reason why is because the Mayas used astrological alignments when planning their city. Looters have learned the layout of the Mayan cities so they know where to dig. With this knowledge, they can loot a sacred temple in a few days. I also found that artifact theft in Mexico has been taken over by drug dealers from Columbia. In other words, since organized crime has taken over, there is also an increase of violence.

Mayan Intrigue will be released on August 30th and I’m having a week long celebration with a book give-away at my Blog. Mayan Intrigue is about the discovery of a priceless artifact that puts Julia’s life in great danger. While on assignment for the newspaper, John and Julia try to enjoy a romantic vacation among the Mayan ruins, but when Julia accidentally comes upon a couple suspicious men exchanging an item, she quickly turns to leave, but it’s too late. Before John and Julia realize what's going on, they find themselves running for their lives through the jungles of the Yucatan. To read an excerpt from each of my books, visit my Website.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The End, the Arc, and Alma the Younger by H.B. Moore

by Julie Coulter Bellon

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been finishing up a manuscript. It’s been an interesting process with this manuscript because I had the beginning and the middle almost from the get-go, but I couldn’t really figure out the perfect ending. I had several options that I'd tried to write for it: a happy tied up ending, a kill off one of the characters so it’s not happy for everyone ending, make this the book that has a sequel so leave it as a cliffhanger ending, or just end it right after the main plot is wrapped up with sort of an open ending. I asked one of my readers where I should end it and she told me that she didn’t like any of those endings, but thought that instead of killing off the character I had in mind, I should just maim him, so people would still come away feeling satisfied that he was alive, but not exactly happy because he was maimed. I wasn’t sure how I felt about her wanting to maim one of my characters, but it was food for thought.

For me, I like the happy endings the best. I like it when the couple gets together, the good guys win, and everyone has a happily ever after. My first three books were more happily ever after books and some of my reviews reflected how there are a lot of people who don’t like that. They don’t consider it realistic. But for me, I guess I don’t read for realism per se. I read for escape and entertainment, sometimes learning, but most of all because there is hardly anything more relaxing for me than to settle down with a book, a comfy chair, and a tall glass of raspberry lemonade.

Lately, I’ve been reading Alma the Younger by H.B. Moore and it’s definitely not a fluffy book. The book starts out with a scene that totally made me want to cringe and read it through my fingers. She wouldn’t, I thought, but she did. It is so gripping, and yet so thought-provoking as Moore puts out a plausible theory as to why Alma the Younger would turn away from the Church and actively campaign against it. I have long been a fan of her writing, but in my opinion, this is her best book yet. I like how real the Book of Mormon world is in the book, and her impeccable research shines through. The characters are rich and tangible, and though this is a fiction work, it is easy to imagine a fleshed out version of these familiar people and their lives because of the way the author writes them.

This book tackles some difficult issues, but even those are presented in such a way that stays true to what we actually know about these prophets and the people around them. I like that there isn’t any overt preachiness in the book, and we are left to draw our own conclusions and interpretations on several issues. In my opinion, Heather Moore is one of the best Book of Mormon fiction writers around because of her innate ability to bring such an amazing and realistic texture to this time period and weave a story using research, real people, and a compelling storyline.

I’m not quite done with the book, I have to read the ending, but I can’t wait to see how the author deals with it, knowing what I do about what really happens to Alma the Younger. And it might give me a little inspiration on which ending to pick for my book. I sometimes think to myself that I ought to put all these different endings that I write for my books on my website so people can pick and choose what ending they want to have: Happy for the happily ever after people, sort of happy for the not, open for people who like to imagine it more themselves, that sort of thing. But no matter what the ending ends up being, I’m just glad this manuscript is about done. There is no other feeling in the world like that.

(Also, as an aside, I was feeling sad this week because I signed up to get an ARC of the Fourth Nephite by Jeff Savage a long time ago, but never got one. Then today, in the mail, I got a beat up old ripped envelope that said it had come unsealed so they’d been keeping it in some Salt Lake post office all this time. I was so glad to see it and I take back all the cranky thoughts I had about Jeff Savage.)

Anyway, here is the backliner to Alma the Younger. It’s definitely a keeper, and a book you’ll want to read over and over. (And even though I got a review copy, I would have bought it myself anyway because I wouldn't want to have an incomplete H.B. Moore collection).

As night falls, a scarlet-robed man emerges from the temple and a hush falls over the waiting crowd. Studying the hooded figure with enmity, Alma recognizes that this is the man who incites rebellion among the people of Zarahemla. This is the man who dares preach from the very place where King Benjamin uttered his final blessings upon the people of the church. Defiling the tower with his very presence, the man who embodies evil raises a hand to silence the drums, then calls to his followers through the eerie quiet. And that’s when Alma realizes the terrible truth: this man is his son.

Alma the Younger, son of the aging high priest, once was taught by the wisdom of prophets. Now the young man is a thief — ensnared by the wiles of strong drink and harlots; a bitter dissenter determined to overthrow the church, to lead the people into new “freedoms.“ He has gathered a strong army to create a revolution, which only begins with the desecration of the temple and will escalate to calamity once he captures King Mosiah’s daughter. But en route to his malicious mission with his royal henchmen, Alma is halted by an unexpected opponent: an angel of the Lord, a messenger of the very God he has sought to defame. And what unfolds is a story of miraculous redemption, a story building on the poignant Book of Mormon account to show how even the vilest of sinners can be transformed by the Savior’s amazing grace.

304 pages published by Covenant Communications

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Winners! Also, Reunited

by Stephanie Black

I'm back after slacking off last week. I was at a family reunion, and no way was I going to pick up my computer and hammer out a blog when I could be yakking with my family and eating chocolate-covered cinnamon bears--er, I mean I’m terribly sorry to be delinquent. A big thank you to everyone who volunteered to review my new book, Cold as Ice. I’ll be giving away twelve copies of the book, so I wrote all the names down and put the slips of paper into a bowl. My lovely and accomplished niece Katie drew twelve names from the bowl. Here they are:

Alison Palmer
Rachel Earl
GG Vandagriff
Danyelle Ferguson
Mormon Surrogate
Jordan McCollum
Valerie Ipson
Kathi Peterson
Tristi Pinkston

Winners, please send your snail mail address to and I will send you a copy of Cold as Ice. Thanks again to everyone who volunteered to review it. And I’m excited to report that my book is now available for preorder from Deseret Book.

The family reunion was a blast. My husband’s family and my family have reunions on alternate years, which works out very well, and this year was my family reunion. We went to the BYU family camp at Aspen Grove. This is the third time we’ve been there, and we always have a great time. They have activities for even the youngest kids, which allows the parents of young children some free time so they can relax and enjoy other activities, instead of spending the whole week chasing toddlers and digging dirt and rocks out of babies’ mouths. And you’ve gotta love a place that cooks your food and does the dishes. Ahh, food cooked by someone else.

My family loves to sit around and talk—everything from casual conversations to murder mystery games to gospel lessons taught by my father—so we put our camp chairs in a big circle and spent a lot of time hanging out and talking and snacking (you wouldn’t believe how much candy we had there. Did you by chance visit your local Costco recently and find the candy shelves empty? Our fault). My mother brought a bazillion glow necklaces and would hand them out in the evenings. My five-year-old had some pretty impressive ninja moves using her glow necklace.

Speaking of ninjas, my children followed up on the success of 2008’s talent show movie, “Stephen and the Ninjas,” by creating a new movie for this year’s family talent show. This year’s film was called “Detective Beach,” and starred budding actor Jared as zany Detective McNorton, who gets put on leave by the chief (“You’re a loose cannon, McNorton. I want your badge and your surfboard on my desk immediately.”) but who still manages to catch the criminal who’d robbed a bank, using a shark as a weapon. The robber nearly escaped at the end, but fortunately for the pursuing detective, the miscreant wasn’t “very good with stairs.” Other family talents included musical numbers, artwork, and small, specially-designed flags for each family made out of duct tape. My niece Rebecca is a duct tape expert.

We also had a blast at the Aspen Follies, where the families at Aspen Grove compete for the best scores in a bunch of crazy activities involving water, a big parachute, rubber chickens, and so on. When you get to each station, the BYU student running the station will ask if your family has a cheer. This year, our cheer was our clan war cry—“Garg’n uair dhuisgear!” and the translation—“Fierce when roused!” This involved a certain amount of difficulty with pronunciation—that’s the problem with Scottish ancestry—but the effect was still quite fearsome. My sister figured that “fierce when roused” is a good war cry for us. We don’t want to get out of our chairs and put down the bag of peanut M&M’s, but if you push us hard enough, watch out.

Anyway, it was a great week. My son Jared enjoyed it so much that he cried when it was over. It’s always sad to have a reunion end. As my mother says, you get used to being apart, but when you’re together again, you remember how fun it is and it’s sad to leave. We don’t live near family—my parents live twelve hours away, as do both my husband’s and my nearest siblings. My husband’s parents live all the way across the country. And my parents are about to get a lot farther away—this fall, they’re leaving on a mission to Portugal. That means we’ll have both sets of grandparents serving missions—my husband’s parents are currently serving in Kentucky—which is pretty awesome. Thank heavens for the modern technologies that allow us to remain in regular contact despite distance. And now we can start looking forward to the next reunion!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Stop Worrying If Your Vision Is New

Not too long ago I blogged about how authors can waste a lot of time speculating about the market. When we sit down to write a book we're making such a big investment of our time that we want to make sure, from the very beginning, that the concept is as bulletproof as possible. There are few things so disheartening as to work on a story for months only to discover that someone else is writing something with a similar premise--and theirs was finished first! Now yours will never sell, or worse: you'll look like a plagiarist!

We authors tend to be neurotic anyway, and things like this only make our mental problems worse.

I recently read two novels with a very similar concept. The first was Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer. The story follows a teenage girl as the world around her is falling apart; a massive asteroid hits the moon, knocking it closer to earth. The change in the gravitational pull causes all sorts of problems: tsunamis, volcanoes, earthquakes. Civilization begins to crumble, and the main character and her family hole up in their house to ride out the devastation and try to survive.

The other book was In a Perfect World, by Laura Kasischke. This one was adult fiction, not YA, but the premise was similar: the main character (a flight attendant) has to hole up in her house as civilization collapses around her. The catastrophe this time was a worldwide epidemic--the Phoenix Flu--rather than earthquakes and volcanoes, but the results are the same: massive depopulation, disintegration of government and infrastructure, and the resulting survival scenario.

Both books have a similar setting: they both take place almost entirely in their homes, and we very seldom see the outside world or hear the news (since the power is out and the radios run out of batteries quickly). So they're both very insular and claustrophobic, dealing with day-to-day survival rather than the typical flashy Hollywood disaster scenarios.

But here's the cool part: the books are completely different. The writing styles are wildly unique. In Life as We Knew it, the book is written in first person as a diary, in simple teenspeak. In A Perfect World is third person and beautiful and literary (the author is a poet). The former is straightforward and stark, while the latter is non-linear and intricate. The conflicts are different, one being all about character issues while the other being mostly plot. And both books are good.

Several months ago, when I finished reading James Dashner's The Maze Runner, I emailed him to assure him that I hadn't plagiarized him in my upcoming novel, Variant. On the face of it, the premise of mine is very similar to his: both are Lord-of-the-Flies situations where the characters are captured but don't know why (though they know they're being observed). Sure, reading that synopsis makes the two books sound extremely similar. However, the stories, characters, setting, writing styles and themes are completely different. As James pointed out in his reply: "Neither one of us came up with the premise; we were just smart enough to create really awesome versions of it."

There's a great line in the musical Sunday In The Park With George (about the painter George Seurat). George is discouraged about his accomplishments as an artist:

Are you working on something new?


That is not like you, George.

I've nothing to say.

You have many things.

Well, nothing that's not been said.

Said by you, though, George?

I think that a lot of us writers can get so discouraged or worried about whether we're truly original and new that we limit our opportunities to create. In the two books I mentioned above, the premises are basically the same, but the authors each created a unique, enjoyable book.

Dot's advice later in her song applies just as well to writers as it does to painters:

Stop worrying if your vision is new.
Let others make that decision--
They usually do.
You keep moving on.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Does Your Writing Shine or Stink?

By J. Scott Savage

WIP Update: One week to go. I’ll either finish Demon Spawn a week from today, or be within a few thousand words. It’s one of my favorite things to have a scene I’ve held in my head for over a year finally come out on paper. It’s even better when it arrives as good—or even better—than I expected. My agent will read it over and give me his feedback in August. Then, in September, when editors are back from vacation, we will begin shopping it. Next week, I’ll share a little history of how DS came from an idea that appeared pretty much full-fledged one night almost exactly a year ago, to signing an agent, to rewriting the outline, and finally . . . well, tune in next week.

Also, about two more weeks until “The Fourth Nephite” is released. Graham Bradley has a great review here.

A couple of weeks ago, agent Nathan Bransford wrote a blog post about why people know they don’t have the talent to be an NBA point guard, paint a masterpiece, or play concert violin. And yet when they write a book, they are sure it is the next bestseller.

He asked why people can’t tell whether their writing is good or not.

There were several great responses, including one where a commenter suggested that the problem is that all writing looks the same. A 90,000 word manuscript looks the same whether it is written by Stephen King (assuming he ever wrote a book as short as 90,000 words) or the guy who’s never even actually read 90,000 words. That’s not a bad idea. When I look at my drawings, it’s clear I have the artistic ability of a fairly untalented eight-year-old. But all writing looks pretty much the same on the page.

If you’ve been writing for long, you’ve probably had someone ask you to look at their work. 90% of the time, they aren’t actually looking for constructive criticism. They are convinced they are amazing writers and just want you to confirm it. It’s kind of funny because writers who have published are secretly sure that their own writing stinks, which is why criticism hurts so much. It’s outside confirmation of our inner fears.

Why is it so hard to judge our own work? Here are a couple of my thoughts.
  1. Easily 80% of a story takes place inside your head. If I want you to see a haunted forest, I give you a few clues. Moving shadows, trees that look like reaching hands, and spooky howls. You fill in the rest from your memory and imagination. So when you read your own writing, you see the stories you created as they appear in your head. It’s much harder to see how a reader new to your story will react. More experienced authors know that what they are trying to convey doesn’t always come through. That’s why it’s so important to get unbiased feedback, and use it.

  2. Ever listen to a recording of your own voice? It doesn’t sound like you expect it to. Part of that is because your voice echoes inside your head. But I think another part of it is because you imagine your own voice to sound differently. The same thing is true of your writing. You expect it to be good, so when you read it, it is. This is why it’s a good idea to put your work on a shelf when you get done. Giving yourself the distance of a month or two allows you to read your work new. The more you write, the better you get at knowing when your writing is working or not.

  3. If you haven’t attended writing conferences, or read enough books on writing, you make beginner mistakes without even realizing they’re mistakes. You can write an amazing description of the setting to begin your story. But no matter how good the execution is, beginning a story with a detailed setting it usually bad writing. It doesn’t hook the reader. There’s a lot to be said, for instinctual writing. But without knowledge, you are trying to build a house using only a hammer and a screwdriver.

  4. One more possibility is that you read for pleasure. You know what you like and you know what you don’t like, but you’ve never tried to break down a novel and analyze what works and what doesn’t. If you write YA romance, read Twilight. I don’t care if you like it or not. Millions of people did and do. You can’t call yourself a successful YA romance author unless you understand what Meyer did that worked for millions of readers. If you love Hunger Games, you need to analyze how Collins made you root Katniss & Peeta to get together even though Katniss was a jerk to Peeta for 90% of the book. And how she took the best of book one and made it work in book two.
How about you? Can you tell whether your writing works or not? If so, how? Why do you think so many people can’t tell if their writing is any good or not?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mary = Unknown Name?

by Sariah S. Wilson

This is what happens when you read too much online. I was out perusing the LDS Bloggernacle, and while I can't remember the site, there was a blogger saying that the name Mary was unknown to the prophets of the Old Testament, while the Book of Mormon prophets knew it (which would have helped keep Mary safe because the people didn't know her name).

I had an Ammon/sheep moment (they were flocks! FLOCKS!). A sort of "Wha...???" came out of my mouth.

Obviously the Book of Mormon prophets used the name. We've all read it. But I don't think it's true that the people in Israel had no idea that Christ's mother would be named Mary.

Is that why so many women are named Mary in the New Testament? We don't see many Marys in the Old Testament (although we do have Miriam, which is likely from the same original Hebrew word), but there are TONS in the New Testament.

We have Mary, Jesus' mother. The sisters Mary and Martha. Mary Magdalene. Mary, the mother of James and Joses, Mary, the wife of Cleophas or "the other Mary" at the tomb. Why were so many women named Mary? Was it just a name people liked? Or would there have been another reason people picked the name Mary for their daughters?

Back in my BYU days when I had Brother Reed Benson for Book of Mormon, we discussed the scripture with the revelation that is about Joseph Smith, saying he would be named for his father (which he was) and after Joseph of Egypt. Joseph had this name despite having older brothers. Tradition dictates that if a name is passed on to a son, it is typically the oldest. Despite this, he was Joseph. (On a tangent, when he got to that part of the translation, I always wondered whether that freaked him out to see a scripture that was about him!) It's why Lehi gave his own son the name Joseph - because of all the special connections throughout the centuries to that name (and coincidentally enough, also why I gave my second son Joseph as a middle name).

As a consequence of that scripture, in a teasing manner Br. Benson said he was very careful to run his children's names past the Lord first, just to see if they needed to be something different (which is understandable given that his father actually was a prophet).

I, possessing a name that came directly from revelation, know well enough that it is very easy for the Spirit to influence the naming of a child.

But in the case of Mary, isn't it more likely that the Israelites knew that the mother of Jesus would be named Mary? And as a consequence, EVERYBODY named their daughter Mary?

In modern day, if it were revealed that a prophet of the Lord would be born in the Salt Lake Valley in the new millennium, to an active LDS family with a pioneer heritage, and his name would be Fred, we would see an explosion of babies named Fred. Five years from now it'd be like back in the 1970s when the Jennifers had to have their own roll because there were so many of them. Every kindergartner out there would be named Fred (maybe we'd even get a George Foreman family who'd have Fred 1, Fred 2, Fred 3, etc.)

The Bible is full of lots of different female names. It's not like Mary was the only option for parents. But I tend to think that the reason we have so many Marys (and probably had lots more that we don't know about, but it is interesting how many times it pops up as a name for different women and how many scholars think that different Marys were combined into one, like Mary Magdalene) is because people wanted it to be possible for their daughter to be the mother of the Son of God. And if you named her Sarah or Dorcas or Bath-sheba, you automatically precluded your child from that ever happening.

So for me, the abundance of women named Mary suggests that it was in fact known that the name of the Christ's mother would be Mary.

And if you're wondering how this is relevant to anything else - the important thing to remember here is that I posted on a Saturday.

Friday, July 23, 2010

July 24 Celebrations -- Not to be Confused with the 24th of July

I really would like to blog today, but I'm in charge of a big community celebration tomorrow. Despite working almost fulltime on this for the past week, I still have bonnets to make, banners to paint, pies to bake, people to call, chuckwagons to park, and please-don't-let-it-rain-from-5-to-7PM-prayers to say. (Thank goodness we don't have a flotilla of floats like some people!)

I must admit I got up this morning feeling kinda sorry for myself and wondering if I would have still joined the LDS Church if somebody had told me about treks and girls camp and Pioneer Days. Then I realized my fate could have been worse: I had an aunt who wanted me to become Catholic.

As "everybody" (outside of Utah) knows, July 24 is more than The 24th of July. It is the worldwide Feast Day for sometime-saint Christina the Astonishing. After perusing her life story on Wikipedia, I can't help but imagine the kind of games I might have had to come up with if we were honoring her instead of Brigham Young.

The girl was born in Belgium around 1150. She "died" at fifteen, but then rose back up at her funeral. And I do mean she rose up -- as in all the way to the rafters. (She later explained that she went as far as she did because she couldn't stand the stink of sinful people.) She went on to live an . . . um . . . eventful (?) life. Wikipedia says:

As chronicled by her contemporaries, she threw herself into burning furnaces and there suffered great tortures for extended time uttering frightful cries, yet coming forth with no sign of burning upon her. In winter she would plunge into the frozen Meuse River for hours and days and weeks at a time all the while praying to God and imploring His Mercy. She would hop around on one leg exclaiming "Look upon me O Lord, for I am like unto a flamingo." She allowed herself to be carried by the currents down river to the mill where the wheel "whirled her round in a manner frightful to behold" yet she had no dislocations or broken bones. She was chased by dogs that bit and tore her flesh. She ran from them into thickets of thorns, and though covered in blood, she would return with no wound or scar.

Imagining the activities at Christina's Feast Day makes my three-legged races and tug-of-war sound dull, huh? (And think what Jeff could come up with!) So, even though sackcloth is bound to be easier to make than bonnets, I guess I'm glad to be a Mormon -- even on the 24th of July.

So, what is everybody else doing this weekend? Respond before Sunday night and I'll enter you in a drawing for a bonnet . . . or a fruit pie (the kind from Hostess) . . . or a potato sack . . . your choice. You know what? I even have a pink plastic flamingo if your tastes run more toward the feast day . . .

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Cry of Goodreads

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Every day I take my little boy to swimming lessons and I hope that today will be the day there won’t be any crying. Not my son, mind you. He loves the water and swimming lessons. No, I hope it’s the little boy who comes every day, clinging on to his mother’s neck as they near the water and get to the staff who try to peel him away from her. He cries so hard and reaches out for her as they take him to get in the water, and it honestly breaks my heart to watch it. The teacher will take him, kicking, crying, and screaming, “I want my mama.” After about fifteen to twenty minutes of crying, he will start to just sob as he begs, “Please. Take me to my mama.” It’s incredibly difficult to watch every day and I want to fix it for him. I want to rush over to him and take him to his mother. I want to talk to his mother about why she’s doing this every day when the child obviously isn’t ready to start swimming lessons. I just want to do something because I think my heart won’t be able to take one more day, especially since I am compelled to be there every day.

Another place I feel compelled to go to every day is Goodreads. I get excited when I see a new review or rating. But then I dread reading the new review, in case it isn’t good. Most of the time it’s been a good experience. Even some of the bad reviews are funny. Like, “I thought your characters were too much like Wonder Woman and her sidekick.” “There was too much climax.” “I had to keep re-reading parts, but that could be because it was 3 a.m. and I was in the tub.” I don’t mind those ones at all and they bring a smile to my face. And of course I love the good ones and feel like I’m on top of the world when someone tells me my book touched their life or how much they liked it. (Jennie Hansen’s review on Meridian Magazine made my whole week because, well, Jennie liked it. Jennie. And she gave it four stars on Goodreads! Woohoo!) But it’s the ones who are very blunt, and borderline cruel that I cringe on. I wonder if these people know the authors will read their scathing review and that’s why they do something like that, or if they just don’t care about anyone’s feelings so they feel okay doing that. I just don’t know. And being the kind of person who takes things to heart, I know I need to not dwell on those few and I should concentrate on the good ones, but sometimes it’s hard.

You see, after I’ve written a book, it goes through several drafts, lots of readers, and then when I think it’s the best I can get it, it’s sent to my editor, who then sends it out to more readers. They critique it and I get their comments back, which is also an interesting experience. Some readers love it, some readers don’t, just like on Goodreads. But my publisher’s readers have a lot of constructive comments to improve the manuscript so I take the ones I can and try to make my story better. Of course it goes through several more rounds of editing and proofreading before it finally goes to press and makes it to the shelves. By the time I’m done with a book, I feel cross-eyed reading it because I’ve read it and changed it so many times. But I know this is the best book I can write and I’m proud of it. At this point, I’m always excited to see what the general public will say about it. Well, excited and nervous.

So that’s why, sometimes after I’ve released a book that represents the best I had to give at the time, and I visit Goodreads only to see a particularly harsh review, I feel like that little boy in the pool. I’m crying inside, reaching out for my mother or people like her, who know me and my heart, know my books, or know writing and how to write a review that isn’t personal or hurtful, but can offer ways for me to improve and learn my craft. And like my feelings for what that little boy is going through, I want to fix the situation, but this time, for those readers. I feel bad. I want to make my book a better experience somehow. I know, it’s unrealistic, but I can’t help it.

So when I see a particularly unmerciful review, as a person, perhaps I’m not as ready as I think to read that one yet. As an author, my skin probably needs another layer of thickness so it’s not quite as deflating to read the more brutal review. My solution should probably be not going to Goodreads so often and wait until the book isn’t quite as fresh and I can have a better perspective on the one or two horrid reviews and I am able to concentrate more on the constructive ones. Or print out the better ones (or funny ones!), and post them all over my desk so they will help off-set any bad ones in my mind. And then repeat to myself ten times a day, you can't please everyone.

It’s a process for every author, I think. You just have to be ready for it, like that boy in the pool. Timing is everything and can mean the difference between tears and learning. I want to be learning and improving, without a lot of crying. And to be the kind of person that just when I think my heart can’t take anymore, I can tell myself that, yes, there is some crying, but after the tears I can hold my head high and say that I love my job and I’m learning my craft and I’ve done the very best I could. No matter what any review said.

(Although I should probably admit, that after I cried over one review, I realized this person had a great name for the pitiful victim in my next book. It’s a writer’s prerogative, right?) Kidding, kidding. (Sort of.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Great Writing Event

An AMAZING Opportunity for Readers and Writers in Utah!

This is a really amazing event I will be part of again this year. If you haven't signed up, hurry and do so. It was a blast last year and I expect it to be again this year. Lots of Utah's best children's book authors and illustrators.

Readers and Writers….SAVE THE DATE!

August 21, 2010
The Waterford School
1700 East 9550 South
Sandy, UT 84093

The Children’s Literature Association of Utah (CLAU)





Help us put books in the hands of underprivileged kids in Utah!

DAYTIME WRITING WORKSHOP: (Pre-register by August 15 $60/Walk-in $70)
Love writing? Spend a fabulous day with award-winning Utah authors! Get hands-on writing advice and move your manuscript closer to publication! Author panel, critiques, and book signings. Lunch provided.
(For adults and children 12 and older.)

EVENING EXTRAVAGANZA: (Pre-register by Aug. 15- $10/Walk-in $15, Family price $25) Book-Lover but not a writer? Or, just looking for a fabulous night out? Come to an evening extravaganza with entertainment by singer Nancy Hanson, The Divine Comedy troupe, a celebrity author panel, and a raffle with prizes that will astound you! (Adults and children over 12.)

COMBINED PACKAGE:($65 Pre-registration by August 15 price)
Love BOTH reading and writing? Attend the workshop , followed by the evening event! Have an experience you won’t forget, and all in the name of literacy! Remember, your purchase benefits Utah kids!



Or mail a check to:

CLAU - Writing for Charity [Make checks out to CLAU]
P.O. Box 614
Layton, Utah 84041

Please include the following information: Names of all participants and whether they will attend the workshop or evening event, or both, and contact information including your address and a telephone number.

Can't wait to see you there!

The Bathinista

WIP Update: I love when you reach the point in your story where everything just starts to flow. You know the characters. You’ve established the setting. You’ve managed to make it past the tough transitions. You know, the ones where you need to get character A to go with character B to place Z. But inherently character A would not want to go to C. You have to make the story flow in such a way that the reader completely believes. Anyway, I’m past most of the tough stuff now and writing scenes I’ve been excited about for six months or more. 10,000 words in the last three days and, as the Loverboy song goes, loving every minute of it.

So, I have a confession to make. I have a bathroom problem. No nothing like that! What kind of blog do you think this is? Although if you’ve got any regularity tips . . . Just kidding. Really! It started out with a simple request. Let me start by saying that I am about the most basic bathroom person you have ever met. I have an electric razor, non-electric toothbrush, Crest. I usually wear my hair so short I can, and do, comb it with my hands. The fanciest thing I have on the sink is some hair gel.

In the shower, I am even more basic. I have a bar of the same kind of soap I’ve used for over 15 years, and shampoo. That’s it. I think my shampoo might have conditioner in it, but I’m not sure. That’s the way I’ve always been. If I run out of shampoo, I’m okay with using soap to wash my hair. If I run out of soap, I just wash my hair first then use the suds to soap off. If I spend more than five minutes in the shower it’s a miracle.

So back to the request. My wife was going to Bed, Bath, and Beyond—a store I try to stay out of unless I can take a nap on one of the beds. She asked if I needed anything. I made the mistake of saying, “Yeah. Actually could you get me one of those things you scrub your back with?” You should have seen her eyes light up. She starting using crazy, words like loofah and pouf—which she was obviously making up on the fly. (I have even more proof of this since Word doesn’t think loofah is a real word either. It keeps underlining it red. See. Loffah, loofah, loofah. No such word.)

Mostly I just nodded. She was so excited that I wanted a bathroom accessory that I didn’t bother telling her I didn’t plan on using it in the shower, I just wanted to scratch the parts of my back I couldn’t reach with it. Anyway, she came back with this long wooden handle, with a handy little rope on one side and a loofah sponge on the other. Of course now I actually had to hang it up in the shower, and use it there. When she discovered I was just scratching my back with it, she told me I actually had to put soap on it.

Well that, as so many things seem to, introduced another issue. It turns out that if you rub a bar of soap across a loofah sponge (stupid made-up thing), it kind of fills it the sponge in, making it pretty darn ineffective as a back scratcher. I mentioned this to my wife, and the next day there was something called body wash in the shower. Maybe you know about body wash already, but I seriously didn’t have a clue. I thought that Axe stuff on TV was some kind of cologne. Anyway, it looks like shampoo. But don’t make the mistake of putting it in your hair. Let me tell you, get that stuff in your eyes and it stings like crazy!

Anyway, you rub some of this blue stuff on you, and then use the loofah and it works pretty well. In fact there were three pretty cool things about it. One, it smells better than my normal soap. Two, it doesn’t slip out of your hand and fall on the floor. And three, it’s got these little scrubbies in it. Kind like tiny grains of sand. That was pretty cool.

Once she discovered I liked the body wash, things came fast and furious. A big puffy ball showed up on a little rope next to the back scratcher/loofah. You use it with the body wash. It looks kind of sissy, but at least it was blue. (I really hope this isn’t the pouf she was talking about. I would totally hate to discover I was the proud owner of a pouf.) Next, since I liked the scrubbies in the body wash, and it totally stings your eyes, she introduced me to something called face wash. Much like the body wash, except it doesn’t sting, and it makes your face feel kind of minty when you’re done using it. Then the soap on my sink disappeared, replaced by this scented hand soap that comes out in a foam. Now all day I find myself sniffing my hand, which apparently smells like “Sea island cotton.” Who knew cotton plants smelled this good?

You might be asking yourself, what is he complaining about? He has an awesome wife who bought him all this cool stuff. That’s true. She is awesome. And I do like the stuff. But that’s exactly the problem. I’ve always kind of viewed myself as a pretty simple guy. I’ve worn the same brand of jeans, Levis 501s, since I was in high school. I would be happy to wear jeans , t-shirts, and no shoes every day of the week. I don’t watch reality shows (I’ve never seen a complete episode of American Idol.) I have no clue who most actresses or actors are, and I couldn’t spot a trend if it hit me over the head with a fashion. It takes me ten minutes to pack for a business trip and all my toiletries fit easily in the little plastic bag you have to fit all your liquids in for a carry-on.

Now look at me. Face wash, body wash, sponges, poufs, soap that actually has a “fragrance.” Who knows where this will end? What if my wife notices the dark circles under my eyes from staying up too late reading? What if she decides to do something about the wrinkles at the corners of my mouth? I could end up with a "routine." I could start getting little wicker caddies for my lotion.

What if a bottle of Just for Men shows up next to my shampoo? This could get very bad very quickly. And what’s scariest of all is that I might discover I like it. Please someone stop this. Help me! I think I’ve become a bathinista.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Books I've Just Read

by Sariah S. Wilson

I've been sort of on this reading jag lately, and been devouring books on a daily basis (which is severely cutting into my sleep time). I blame my vacation. Had all that family to help, and thus, a lot of time to read. I'm realizing how much I miss being able to read to my heart's content.

My dad recommended this book to me a couple of months ago. I thought it sounded interesting, had intended to check it out, and promptly forgot about it. He brought it along on our family vacation and lent it to me.

He hadn't been kidding about how good it was. This is different than any other book I've read - it's a factual accounting of a once very famous explorer, Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in the Amazon (and prior to that had been THE MAN when it came to exploring it - he did it better and faster than anyone else). He wanted to find "El Dorado" - or the the rumored "City of Gold." Fawcett believed it to be a real place, and dubbed it the "City of Z." This story is broken up into parts; the recounting of Fawcett's life story, his final exploration, and then to all the people who have mounted expeditions trying to find him, including the author, a reporter with zero exploring experience. This is a true story, but written so well it reads like fiction. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical or suspense novels.

I read two YA series. I will not reveal the name of either series. The first, because it had the worst ending in history and doesn't deserve to be named and have any attention brought to it, and the other because it's embarrassing to admit reading it. I didn't finish though and had to stop when I found myself skipping over large blocks of content.

Graphic and disturbing. Nobody warned me about this one.

I wanted to read it because 1) I'm a fan of dystopian novels - I don't really know why, as they're typically dark and depressing (not my normal scene, and I like best the ones where the rebels overthrow the awful government) and 2) many new books that are coming out reference this book as a comparison (i.e., "It's 'The Handmaid's Tale' meets 'Survivor'" sort of thing).

Was it powerful, scary, dark, and enlightening? Yes. Will I ever read it again? No. Ambiguous ending. You know how I feel about those. Don't think I'd recommend it, and there are some scenes and language that are horrifying (as I'm sure they're supposed to be given the nature of the book). To the woman at Seagull who thought LDS romance books were smutty, you will definitely want to steer clear of this one.

I kept hearing buzz about this book and decided to read it.

I really enjoyed it. It had a fascinating question - what constitutes a human being? How do my religious views play into answering that question? There's a lot of pretty prose in this book, but still very readable.

I will warn LDS readers that there is a relationship the heroine engages in that would be considered, um, inappropriate, but feels normal to her given her genetic background and upbringing. There is a smattering of violence and I think probably some language, but it takes a Michael Crichton type situation and turns it on its head, which I enjoyed.

And it had an ending that I thought very satisfying and made sense. (You know how important that is to me these days.)

Next up to read:

Another dystopian novel, but in this series everyone over the age of 13 disappears. It sounds sort of like "Lord of the Flies" meets "Logan's Run." My son is interested in reading it, so I thought I'd give it a go before I give him an okay because from some of the reviews it sounds like it might be a little on the scary side (people describe it as a horror/dystopian novel). Has anyone else read it?

This is a book I keep hearing about as the next "big thing" - movie rights were sold before the book was even bought by a publisher. Another end of the world type story, and the reviews on it are excellent.

Book I can't wait to read:

Coming out AUGUST 24.

And Jeff, if you get an ARC of this one and don't, wrath, brimstone.

Read any good books lately? Or any bad ones? Anything you're looking forward to reading?

Friday, July 16, 2010

So, Have YOU Been to Gan?

by Kerry Blair

When my father wasn’t working or sleeping he was reading. If he was awake and not reading, he was sitting on the back deck in the dark with his daughter. From the time I was very young until my father passed away--quite fittingly at the dawn of a new millennium--we often gazed up at the stars together, discussing life, the universe, and everything.

But mostly the universe.

My father was born three years before Buck Rogers. He learned to read about the time of the big bang in a literary genre fathered by H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and others. From the time I could read on, I watched him plow through the entire science fiction collections of both the Prescott and Mesa Public Libraries. Twice. (At least.) Although he had almost no use for personal possessions (like, say, an overcoat) he did manage to collect his weight in pulp novels -- all of which are still in my garage. I often swear to take them to Goodwill; sometimes I even get them as far as the trunk of my car before I turn around and haul them back. If I ever find the time and creativity, I would like to make a collage of the covers. Spaceships, aliens, strange new worlds . . . incredible art, mostly from the 30s through the 60s . . . I'd take it over an original Thomas Kinkade any day.

My father was the kindest, smartest, most interesting person in my world. Forget TV, and even books, I loved nothing more in the evenings before bed than fantasizing with him about the life we both knew simply must exist on other planets. For more than three decades, we’d point out stars and tell each other stories about what we imagined must go on out where no man has gone before. At first I was all about terrifying space monsters and magical moon princesses, but my dad insisted from the beginning that the people who live “out there” don’t differ much from the people who live here. When I joined the Church and shared with him Christ’s words about His other sheep from the Book of Mormon, my dad just nodded. He’d remembered that Plan all his life.

Most LDS people, in fact, know that Earth is not the only planet ever created. But how many of us actually talk about it? (Besides me, I mean.) The only thing more amazing than somebody publicly expounding upon the LDS view of outer space is somebody else writing a novel about it. Well, friends and neighbors, somebody has! Our own Daron D. Fraley, in fact. (I will forever be proud to have snagged him as a guest blogger before he becomes inter-galactically famous.) The book is The Thorn: Book One, The Chronicles of Gan.

Before I go on, I need to remind you that I almost never review books. Not anybody's. Anywhere. Ever. There are several reasons for this, but the most compelling is that I am simply no good at it. I freeze up whenever anybody asks me what one of my books is about. How can I then face the pressure of reducing someone else’s opus to a blithe two-paragraph synopsis and biopic theme analysis? (The only real master at literary review I know is Jennie Hansen, who is concise and insightful where others -- read: me -- tend toward that blithe thing I mentioned earlier. It’s one of her many, many gifts.) While Daron sent me a copy as a kindness, he didn’t ask for a review. He probably didn’t want one, knowing my skill at it, so I won’t surprise him — pleasantly or otherwise. But I will make a few personal observations. (Which are nothing at all like a review. Ask anybody.)

First off, I was immediately intrigued with the concept: Three tribes are at war on the planet Gan, unaware that the sign of Christ’s birth on an unknown world—Earth—is about to appear in the heavens. That’s heady stuff—and an idea I’ve loved ever since reading a Ray Bradbury short story in a similar vein. In fact, it’s something I’ve dinked around with myself for several years now. I’m glad at this point that I never finished. I never even approached Daron’s imagination, style, and touching message.

To my surprise, I was captivated from the first chapter. I like sci-fi, but I love historical fiction. The Thorn could be both. It reads like it could have happened in Zarahemla—had there been two suns and three moons. It has visionary men and epic battles; it explores themes of loyalty, betrayal, patriotism, treason, miracles, and loss of faith. (Any of that sound familiar to anybody else?) And it was so real! While I had a sneaking suspicion from his blog that Daron can write, I have to admit I didn't expect to get as caught up in the story as I did. At one point I actually turned down a page corner thinking, “This is a great scripture story. I'll read it to my Primary kids.” The telling part of this is that I remembered that I no longer teach Primary before I remembered I wasn’t reading a book based on scripture. (No comments on the brain cells, or lack thereof, please.)

No biopic theme interpretation to be found here. I will say instead that as I read I felt my testimony of faith, hope, and charity strengthened. On Gan, when all else failed and plans fell to ruin, these three principles remained -- even as they have and will everywhere, throughout eternity.

I'll conclude by confessing that I finished the first installment of The Chronicles of Gan with tears in my eyes. It was late evening. I looked out the window at the darkening sky and wished I could sit once more under the stars and share this book with my father.

That, my friends, is the highest praise I've ever given a novel.

Daron, did I remember to say “thank you”?

Visit Daron Fraley’s website HERE for a link to his blog and a scad of “real” reviews of The Thorn. Be sure to check out Angel’s Song, a companion short story to the first of the Chronicles.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Great Book Academy Question--Opinions Needed

by Julie Coulter Bellon

You may not know this, but I’m on the planning committee for the Book Academy Conference. This is a writing conference that Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah, puts on at the end of September every year. Last year we had two keynote speakers, Brandon Sanderson and Maria Covey Cole (with a surprise guest speaker--her father Steven Covey), lots of classes and panels, and I think most everyone had a great time. Utah has a wonderful variety of aspiring and established writers and I love the energy I get when I go to different conferences with them.

Anyway, this year’s Book Academy conference promises to be even better than last year’s and I’m really excited about it. It’s going to be held on September 30th and the website for early bird registration (and a $10 discount) will be up and running shortly. (I'll keep you posted). But as our committee was in session the other day, we were putting together the classes, topics, and possible teachers, and I thought to myself that I know what kind of classes I want to see, but how could I ask a good cross-section of aspiring and established writers what class topics they would most like to see at a conference? And then I thought of you, dear readers, and I’m hoping you can help me. If you were to attend a writing conference, what classes would you most like to see? There are two tracks, one for beginning writers and one for advanced writers, so keep that in mind. But would you prefer to see things like self-editing, grammar, what to do when your first draft is finished, showing not telling, critique groups, and other things like that? Or a mix of writing/marketing specifics---like writing in depth characters, great villains, character bibles, plotting your plot, great dialogue, great query letters, pitching to agents, marketing your books, etc.? Or both? Do you have other ideas? (I’m totally open for new ideas!)

Obviously I’ve only listed a few things off the top of my head, but this is what I want to know: What kind of classes most interest you at a writing conference? (And who would you love to see teach it?)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Calling Interested Bloggers

by Stephanie Black

Cold as Ice will be released in just a couple more weeks, so I’m looking for twelve interested bloggers who’d like a review copy. If you’re interested, leave a comment in the comment trail.

I do understand that agreeing to review a book by someone you know, or at least sort of know in a theoretical kind of way because you read her blog can be tricky, because, um, what if you really dislike the book? You might worry that this could create an awkward situation when the author approaches you in a darkened parking lot after the next writers conference, encroaches on your personal space, cracks her knuckles, and says, “So, Sally, you didn’t like my book, eh?”

Worry no more! In the event that you heartily dislike my book, I have provided a handy review that you can just cut and paste into your blog. It’s perfect for those awkward two-star situations where you don’t quite know what to say.

I recently read Stephanie Black’s latest release. When I pick up something to read, I want it to be a book, and wow, Black has certainly written a book! One thing I find vital to a book is pages, and this has plenty of pages. The story started right on page 1 and didn’t end until page 296. The ink is clear and dark and the chapter numbers are absolutely consecutive—no flaws at all.

This book contains both male and female characters, with a variety of ages and hair colors. There’s even a teenager! And I’m glad I’m not a character in Black’s books, because they always have huge problems. Can’t one of her characters just get a puppy or a birthday present or have a really fun summer for once?

The writing itself includes punctuation and many different parts of speech, including nouns. Every novel I’ve ever loved has had nouns. This book even has proper nouns.

Things happen in this book, followed by other things. I don’t want to give spoilers, so I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of a plot. If you’re looking for a book to read, this is a book, and can be read.

There you have it. But in all seriousness, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to pretend you do. Feel free to be candid. If you’d like to give it a try and are willing to review it over the next couple of months, drop a comment in the comment trail. If I get more than twelve comments, then I’ll draw names. Happy reading!

Excuses, excuses

Dang it! I was determined not to miss any more Tuesday blogs, but I'm on vacation in a place where time has no meaning. (Or, at least, time has less meaning than usual.)

Consequently, I'm late and I have nothing to say.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Moving Walkway

By Jeffrey S Savage

WIP Update: Currently I am a little more than halfway done with my national Young Adult manuscript, Demon Spawn. I’ve been hung up a little on a scene where a character turns on her friend. I was struggling to find a way to make the scene both believable to the reader, hurtful to the protagonist, but not make you hate the friend. I finally nailed it at about midnight. I have both the next 4th Nephite and the next Farworld book plotted and expect to start Air Keep next. Shandra is currently in the simmering stage, but I can say most of it will take place in New York, and this book will NOT end with a cliff hanger of any kind.

Link: My good friend and critique group member, Heather (HB) Moore, wrote a great post on why all LDS novels are not appropriate for all readers—particularly younger readers. I really liked her post because there are people who feel that any LDS novel should be something the whole family can listen to while driving in the car, even if they have younger children. While we do not include profanity, sex, etc., there are many topics not appropriate for younger readers that are addressed. I would not readers younger than ten read “A Time to Die,” for example, just because it is probably too scary for some of them. Heather’s post can be found here.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I am doing a lot of travel lately. Recently I noticed something that happens in every airport. You see someone obviously racing for a flight. It could be a man, a woman, a couple, younger, older, heavy, thin. It doesn’t matter. They are in a hurry. As they get to the moving walkway, they see the line of people getting on and decide to go past it. If they run the whole way, they can make better time. But most of them are pulling suitcases or lugging bags. They skip the walkway to make better time, but instead—although they are walking more quickly than the people on the walkway—they fall behind, because even a reasonable walking speed on the moving conveyor is faster than a hurried walk off of it.

This reminds me of what I see so often in writing—and in the rest of the world too. People mistake action for progress. You hear things like, “I sent out my query letter to a hundred agents.” Or “I finished that entire novel in two months.” Yes, it’s good to finish your novel. Yes it’s good to contact a bunch of agents. But are you walking on the moving walkway? Are you talking advantage of the things that are there to help you succeed? Or are you skipping them because they appear too slow? Here are a few things I suggest.

1) Listen to people who know what they are talking about. I’ve almost entirely stopped reading people’s manuscripts—even from friends—because they don’t want to hear that their story needs work. They want to hear that their book is wonderful as it is. These same authors ignore critique groups, skip conferences, and avoid classes. They wouldn’t dream of sitting down to a piano for the first time and playing a complete song, but they are sure their first attempt at writing will sell for a million dollars. If you are serious about anything, talk to people who have succeeded at it, and make sure that you spend less time talking about what you are doing and more time listening to what they tell you.

2) Choosing quantity over quality. There used to be a guy in a New York train station who sold wallets to people who got off the train. They weren’t great wallets, but they were cheap. And he had hundreds of thousands of people walk by every day. Just by shouting, “Want to buy a wallet?” he managed to make sales. The same thing could work in finding a spouse. Just ask everyone you meet until someone says yes. I’m sure it would work. And I know a couple of returned missionaries who seemed to be doing just that at the dances I went to when I was younger. But would you want the spouse you would end up with that way?

Don’t try to get an agent the same way that guy sold wallets. For one thing, it usually doesn’t work that way with agents. For another thing, you probably won’t be happy with the agent you get. I know it gets said a lot, but you should spend MUCH more time researching agents, studying web sites about writing query letters, and polishing your approach than you spend sending out letters. Once you think you have it right, send out somewhere between 5 and 10 letters at a time. If you don’t get any requests. Rework the letter.

3) Do not send out your first draft. Or your second draft. It’s that simple. Yet people ignore this advice all the time. I know you are excited to get your book finished. And you should be. Go out to dinner. Call all your friends at 2 in the morning and scream, “I’m done!” Then explain you are not ending your life, just your book. You just finished writing a single project of x thousand words. Celebrate! You deserve it. But do not send it out to agents. I promise you that no matter how good of a writer you are, the story is not done. Sending out your story after the first draft is like waking up from a night’s sleep, sweaty, hair messed up, bad breath, and immediate going on a first date with the person of your dreams. I’m sure it works occasionally, but do you really want to chance ruining the perfect match because you stink? Do you want to turn off the agent of your dreams because part of your story stinks?

The month or two, or more, after finishing a story is the time to get as much feedback as possible. Find everyone who is saintly enough to read your work, send it to them along with some questions like: Are the characters believable? Did you follow the plot? Were you hooked by the first chapter? List any scenes or motivations that were unclear. Mark any sections where you felt tempted to skim with a red pen.

Get as much feedback as you can—setting your ego aside. This is not the time to explain yourself. This is the time to gather all the comments—good and bad—that you can.

Once you have all your feedback together, compare notes. Notice common threads. Come up with and editing plan. Yes, it may feel like you’ve slowed down the whole process. But trust me, you are on the moving sidewalk. Those people who are gloating over finishing their WIP in a month and sending it out to a hundred agents, will have received all of their rejections when you send out a polished manuscript and query letter that will generate interest.

I’m sure the people who skip the moving walkway get some benefit out of it. They definitely get more exercise. Maybe they get to the plane a second or two earlier. But most times not. And when they do get to their gate, they are tired, sweaty, (trust me I know, I usually end up sitting by them) and grumpy. By contrast, the people who study the gates, take the trains, walkways, and other tools designed to make getting from one part of the airport to another faster and less hassle, are happier, more rested, and far more likely to enjoy the flight ahead of them. Just remember that in the long run everyone ends up on the same plane. Be the passenger who does so wisely.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

More Bad Endings

by Sariah S. Wilson

How I hate stupid endings.

I know I've blogged about it quite a bit, but it really and truly does drive me up the wall.

If I'm going to spend my time and money on your book, I feel like the least you can do is give me a satisfactory ending.

I'm a fan of happy endings (hence, the romance writing), but I'll go along with you on the ride as long as the ending isn't dark and depressing. I have enough real life of my own, thank you. I don't get into books to walk away feeling miserable. I want to be happy that I read your book, happy that I invested in it. I will not feel that way if you screw up the ending.

My family has always teased my mother about reading the last few pages of a book before she'll buy it. She told me once that the reason she does this is to make sure it will turn out the way she wants it to. If it doesn't, she won't buy it.

I would hate to spoil the ending of books for myself, but I'm geetting to the point where I think I just may have to start doing what my mom does.

Right before our vacation, I went shopping at a local outlet mall for some clothes for the kids (swimsuits and stuff). There was a bookstore there, and we stopped in to look around. I find it very hard to go into a bookstore and just browse, so we all walked out with several books.

I picked up the first two books in a series that I had heard quite a bit about when the first book came out. The reviews were generally positive, and I thought that I'd give it a shot.

The first book, the great "twist" was predictable from the prologue, but I read it anyways and enjoyed it. It took place at the turn of the century among a group of privileged, elite teenagers. Most of the book focused on the relationships among this group.

So the series progressed. People died, rumors, betrayals, scandals, blackmail, etc., all happened. I read through book two on the trip, came home and picked up the third and fourth book because I wanted to see how it all turned out.

And at the end of the fourth book, everybody's lives were awful. Well, one character ended up with a fairly decent life (after some horrific tribulations, including marrying the man who killed two of her family members), but the rest all went on to live very miserable existences.

Worst of all - the main couple in the series, the one you are rooting for from the first book to finally find their happiness, don't end up together.

I honestly read the last few pages of the book over again to make sure I hadn't missed anything.

His father dies, he has to take over the family business. He had been planning on running away with the heroine to Europe but can't. She decides that her future career as a writer is far more important than this man she is in love with, so she tells him it was fun, but I have to go. Best of luck to you.

I didn't need everyone's lives to be perfect. But I had expected a payoff after rooting for these characters and wanting them to be together. The author made sure we understood that these characters would never, ever be together again and would not reconnect at any point in the future.

As a reader, be aware of your audience. If you're a literary writer, you can get away with misery and torment up to the end. If you're a mystery writer, the mystery should get solved. The bad guys get stopped in suspense. The magic object saves the world in fantasy.

AND IN ROMANCE, the hero and heroine end up together and they're happy. The end.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Born to . . . Uh . . . Quilt? Write? Create!

by Kerry Blair

Oh, dear! There I was, sitting at the sewing machine, stitching together gorgeous fiery batiks when it suddenly occurred to me that today is Friday.

About half my problem with blogging consistently is an inability to keep track of the days of the week. The other half is a serious lack of practice. Writing practice, that is. (A third contributing factor is sloth, but I hate to acknowledge that one, what with it being the Seventh Deadly Sin and all.)

But, since I have yet to convince Sariah to change the name of our blog to Five LDS Writers, One Quilter, and a Frog, let’s get back to the writing thing. Unlike most of you, I don’t write every day. Unless I remember to blog, sometimes I don’t write every week. But I do write. I used to be one of those people who believe that becoming a successful author takes 80% talent and 20% luck. After a couple of years out of the publishing business, I have converted to the group who believe that becoming a successful author takes 80% hard work, 10% talent, and 10% luck.

It’s not unlike quilting.

Almost two years ago, I went to a prestigious quilt show with my stitching-addicted aunt. It was creation as I had never seen it before. I was captivated. I wove in and out of rows of breathtaking heirlooms and thought, “I can do this. How hard can it be?” That very day my aunt gave me a discarded (albeit high end) sewing machine, fifty yards of fabric, and twenty pounds of books on stitch witchery. A quilter was born.

As it turned out, “born” couldn’t be more apt. You know how newborn people aren’t very good at it? They can’t walk or sit up or roll over or do any of those things even toddlers can manage. Newborn everythings are kind of that way, I think. My earliest efforts at fabric piecing resulted in a quilt top that looked as if it had been put together by a committee—of color-blind, one-armed chimpanzees hyped up on cold medicine and Diet Coke. I went ahead and finished it—badly—then “proudly” presented my very first quilt to the pit bull. She rejected it.

It made me wonder how dumb (read: egotistical) one person (read: me) could possibly be. Hadn’t I learned anything from that whole writing experience? (Apparently not.) For those of you not up to speed on my life: about ten years ago, my best friend was writing an LDS novel. I had recently been released from stake Relief Society and diagnosed with MS. (In other words, I was looking for something to do sitting down.) I observed Joan with envy for awhile and then thought, “I can do this. How hard can it be?”

I found out.

Writing is hard. It takes study and tools and, groan, practice. Lots and lots and lots and lots of practice. Quilting is hard. I suspect painting and composing and sculpting and violin mastery and rocket propulsion design . . . every worthy creative effort undertaken in mortality . . . are also harder than they look. (Even baseball is harder than it looks. Which is not to say that playing baseball is not one of the most worthwhile and, um, creative ways one can spend one’s life.) I suspect, in fact, that “hard” is part of the Plan. As newborn people we progressed little by little, with those who had superior natural gifts and/or greater drive and determination outpacing some of the rest of us. It just stands to reason that pattern would hold true through mortality—and beyond.

After many more fabric-related failures—and one or two reasonable successes—it finally dawned on me that I have no greater gift for quilting than I do for writing. Since music and art seem too hard, even for me, I’m considering trying my hand at brain surgery next. In the meantime, I continue to quilt for the same reason I continue to write—the deep joy and satisfaction I get from the process. Why abandon something I love due to despair that I’m not as good at it as you are? It’s too easy, in everything we do, to focus on the end result alone: to judge our creation by somebody else’s standard.* I will never be a star. I don’t have a single blue ribbon to hang on a quilt or even one award to stick on a book—and I’m okay with that. I have written stories to pass down that are very much a part of me, and stitched serviceable, almost-beautiful quilts for loved ones to wrap up in while they read.

Could it get any better than that?

*Admittedly, when it comes to brain surgeries, rocket propulsion systems, and their ilk, there should perhaps be a minimum standard set for the quality thereof. I'm just saying.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Slow & Steady Writer--A Day in the Life

by Julie Coulter Bellon

The garbage truck rumbled by my window at 7:30 a.m. and I listened to it as it made loud beeping noises made even louder by the silence of my street at that hour. Unfortunately, I think my garbage man hates me, so he doesn’t actually put my garbage can down, he drops it about four feet off the ground so it makes another large noise as it tumbles a little bit down the street. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep anymore because I’m one of those people that once they’re awake, they have a hard time going back to sleep, so I prayed that the garbage truck hadn’t woken up the baby and got out of bed.

I went downstairs and got on the computer. A part of me thought that this would be a great time to work on my book, but unfortunately, my brain doesn’t really cooperate with its creative side that early in the morning. (And for those of you who are shaking your head right now, I’ve really tried! In the morning, my attempts at writing look like this: “Tyler was tired. He wished he was home in bed, not chasing terrorists in France.” “Isabella could hardly keep her eyes open. She was very, very tired.”) So, instead, to wake myself up a little, I took a few minutes to look at the newspaper headlines. After I’d read the morning news, two of my little boys were up and around, so I helped them get their breakfast and got some for myself. By this time, my brain was working and I thought it would be fun to print out my manuscript and go through it on paper. I love doing that because I catch so many more typos and plot holes that way, and I can see where I need to add details. There’s just something about seeing it on printed paper that makes it so much easier for me to edit and revise. So I started printing and then it happened.

The baby woke up.

I left the printer printing and went to get the baby out of her crib. I took her downstairs and sat at the desk, cuddling her for a moment, while I made sure the printer was still printing. I nicely stacked my manuscript for later in the day, and got the baby ready for breakfast.

The manuscript sat on my kitchen counter until after lunch as my phone and doorbell started ringing. I touched it as I went by, having some scenes and bits of dialogue come to me as I helped children with chores, did some chores myself, played with the baby, and fielded different appointments and situations that came up. I did accidentally call one of my children the name of my main character (which was totally embarrassing. Sorry, son!) and I knew I needed to write that little bit of scene and dialogue for the character down since it was coming out of my subconscious and making itself known in a way that even my conscious self wanted it out. I grabbed a pen and jotted my thoughts on a sticky note, then went to see what the commotion in the kitchen was about. The boys wanted to do a lemonade stand and needed me for a taste tester. (Can you have too much sugar?)

I thought the lemonade stand was a great idea, because the baby was looking sleepy and I wanted a good half hour or more (I take whatever I get these days) to work on my manuscript. The boys went outside and I took the printed pages into the living room and sat down, determined to get even a few moments to work on it. My baby got her scratch paper and a pen and came to sit down beside me. We worked together in silence for a few moments, with her trying to copy my little scribbles on her paper. (Her scratch paper is my old manuscripts, so hers had words on it, too. She seems to like that.) After I’d written down everything that had been coming to me all day, I got two pages into my editing and was feeling good. The baby had even added a few scribbles of her own to my pages, but it was still readable, so I didn’t mind.

Of course, the lemonade stand boys needed some help in the kitchen with ice and some money to make change, so I left the manuscript in the living room for a moment to help them. When I came back, the baby had fallen asleep, her head on my manuscript like a pillow, her pen still in her hand. I wish now I would have taken a picture and captioned it with Future Author. It was just so adorable. But it gave me a dilemma. Do I try to get the manuscript out from under her head and possibly wake her up? That could be bad because once she’s awake, she’s awake, and she doesn’t nap again for the rest of the day. (And she’s usually grumpy with no nap.) Or I could leave it there and just be glad I got two pages done.

The dogged author in me tried to get a few pages out from under her head, but her eyelids fluttered open and so the mommy in me who wanted a happy baby not a grumpy one gave up. Instead, I curled next to her on the couch, (as much as I could with my pregnant belly) and closed my eyes. Her chubby little body snuggled next to me, her little sweet breaths were regular on my cheek, and I knew the manuscript could wait a little longer. And hey, I reminded myself that I got two pages done and several ideas written down. I count that as progress.

I think as writers, we can put so much pressure on ourselves to be full time writers, or think that somehow we need to write for hours a day or we’re not doing enough no matter what stage of life we're at. I guess, for me, I’m learning in my writing journey, that I can’t do that right now. I have to count my small successes, and think like the tortoise—slow and steady wins the race. For me, as long as I’m doing even one or two pages a day, I’m doing okay. And I hope those of you who are like me, trying to squeeze your writing into an otherwise full life, that you will do the same. Just pat yourself on the back, even if you only write a page a day, and tell yourself you’re doing okay. You’ll get there. And when you do, I’d love to hear about it. What works for you? What doesn't? I think the more we connect, the easier it is to be in this writer/parent/spouse/church calling/and everything else boat.

(And just FYI, if you are interested, there is an interview with me and a book giveaway going on from July 5-12. The prize is your choice of either All’s Fair or Dangerous Connections. Just visit here and leave a comment.)

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Jaws and Bob Ross and My Book

by Robison Wells

In his Great Movies column series, Roger Ebert said the following about the shark in Jaws:

In keeping the Great White offscreen, Spielberg was employing a strategy used by Alfred Hitchcock throughout his career. "A bomb is under the table, and it explodes: That is surprise," said Hitchcock. "The bomb is under the table but it does not explode: That is suspense." Spielberg leaves the shark under the table for most of the movie. And many of its manifestations in the later part of the film are at second hand: We don't see the shark but the results of his actions. The payoff is one of the most effective thrillers ever made.

A critic with The New York Times wrote:

It speaks well of this director's gifts that some of the most frightening sequences in Jaws are those where we don't even see the shark.

I've heard about the hidden shark a thousand times: in film classes, in writing workshops, in critique groups. Heck, I think I remember my high school English teacher talking about it. The fact that you couldn't see the shark made it all the more frightening; you're not just afraid of a really big fish, you're afraid of the unknown.

But here's the the crazy part: contrary to popular thought--even Ebert quotes it wrong in his review--Steven Spielberg really really wanted to show the shark. A lot.

I watched a documentary last night (Jaws: The Inside Story), and an interview with Spielberg (and much of the rest of the crew) reveals how the shark was supposed to be in the very first scene. The shark was supposed to be everywhere. They made five of them, each with different motorized capabilities--the movie was going to be Sharks On Parade.

And then the motorized sharks broke. They broke every single day, several times a day. And, with the myriad challenges of filming at sea, an hour waiting to fix a malfunctioning shark often meant the entire day was a waste. The movie was getting increasingly over-budget and past its deadlines. So this is when Spielberg turned to other options. According to his interview, it was mid-shoot, with his job on the line and Hollywood rumor mills talking about how he'd never make another movie ever again, that Spielberg thought: "What would Hitchcock do?"

The answer, of course, was to hide the shark. If you rarely saw it, then you rarely needed the animatronics to work properly. In other words, the directorial genius of Spielberg was the result of an accident. It wasn't what he planned, but he was able to take the accident and turn it into something amazing.

It made me think about my upcoming novel, Variant. I use both outlining and discovery writing when I draft a new novel: I outline the major events, usually with a sentence per chapter, and then freewrite the chapter. And, about one third of the way through the book one of my characters--a minor character--did something fascinating. It wasn't much, just a couple sentences, but it changed the nature of the character.

When my brother read the draft for the first time, he declared this character to be "by far the most interesting person in the story", but the character was still minor.

When my book was rejected over and over, two editors mentioned that character specifically. One said, as he rejected the manuscript, that my plot-driven finale "just couldn't compete with the likes of [this character]." In other words, I had a really fascinating character in the book--the most fascinating character--who I was completely ignoring in favor of less interesting stuff.

So, after the second round of rejections, I rewrote the second half of the book, and I gave this character their due. They became one of the very biggest characters in the entire book, and, in my opinion, one of the best. And the book is infinitely stronger because of it. (And it ultimately sold because of that revision.)

The great Bob Ross (who I hope to one day look like) referred to errors as Happy Little Accidents, and insisted that they just made his paintings better. I think that's definitely true of writing, too. While there definitely is a point where we have to restrain ourselves and finalize the story and the characters, great things can happen when we follow unplanned "accidents".

What about you? Have you ever had something unexpected happen in your writing and it turned out for the better?

Monday, July 05, 2010

What Do You Want From Me?

[If you requested a 4th Nephite ARC, they are winging their way toward you. Especially if you e-mailed me your address. If you still want a review copy, or didn’t send me your address, do so quickly. There are a few more left.]

So for two weeks now, we here at the froggy pond have been good little bloggers. I think we’re afraid of Anon ranting at us again. Or maybe we’re just afraid to be the first not to write. We’ve been at this now for what? Three years or so? After all that time, I’m still not sure exactly what kind of blog we are. I mean Kerry is obviously the mother of greatness, who inspires us all. Rob is the class clown. Julie is the token Canadian . . . I mean, the model of consistency. Stephanie is the hot west coast babe with the twisted books. Sariah knows all about saving money, Nephite weapons of war, and has had every affliction known to man heaped upon her. We all write. We all occasionally post about writing. We try to make you laugh now and then. We hope to inspire at times. But why are you here?


What are you looking for? I guess my question of the moment is when—and if—you come to the Frog Blog on Mondays, what would you like to see? Writing lessons? Publishing thoughts? Personal stories? Inspiration? Q&A? If you could wave your magic wand and have me post about anything at all, what would it be?

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Trend Watch: Polygamy is the New Craze

by Sariah S. Wilson

All you lucky folks are being spared a travelogue of my recent family vacation to Utah and then to Thermopolis, Wyoming and ending up in Yellowstone Park/West Yellowstone, Montana before catching a plane out of Jackson Wyoming to get home because - I subscribe to a review magazine called RT (for Romantic Times) Book Reviews. For the romance industry, it is one of "the" publications that you should probably be reading for news and updates and what's coming out.

In their "Trend Watch" section they cited polygamy as the hot new writing topic. They were careful to make the clear delineation of LDS and FLDS, but I do have to admit that by the end of the article I was a little...irritated.

Not because polygamy is off limits to anyone who hasn't personally lived it, but because of the historical references that I saw.

One particular author, who loves to write books about Mormons for mainstream inspirational readers (which I can't say anything about one way or the other as I've never read this author or heard of her before this article), says she's especially drawn to the time of Joseph Smith because of the dichotomy of women knowing there was another way to live yet choosing to live in polygamy (as opposed to modern day polygamists who are cut off from the world and raised in relative isolation).

She then went on to say that although she knew her books were unusual for the market, her books about polygamy have "a broader implication for people today who are caught up in one kind of bondage or another. Whether it's a cult or a destructive lifestyle, the deeper story is of God's love for us, no matter what happens."*

Now, I'm no fan of polygamy. I'm a very big unfan of current practices and think most of those modern men should be hunted down and imprisoned for the kind of stuff they do.

But when it comes to the early days of the Church - I still don't get it/like it, but I suppose it's a bit like when someone picks on your kid sister. You don't get to tease my sister, even if I do sometimes. It's different when it's family.

And I think the early practice of polygamy was not about bondage, cults or a destructive lifestyle. I think it was a whole other beast. I've read books by polygamist wives, their husbands, their offspring. I know some people had a little piece of heaven in their homes, while others constantly fought and bickered and dealt with overwhelming jealousy (which I so get!), and other women became almost autonomous with largely absent husbands, and I saw it create a certain kind of woman who knew she was as good as any man (because she proved it on a daily basis to survive) and in my opinion, was probably part of the reason that Utah was the second territory to give women the right to vote (although Congress tried to undo that with the Edmunds-Tucker Act).

All of the authors interviewed for the article with current/upcoming releases - not one was LDS. Not one. And that bothered me too.

Where are the stories told by the ancestors of these people? Where are the stories of people who KNOW what it's like to feel the Spirit whisper to you? Who can do hard things because of the reassurance of the Holy Ghost?

I don't mean to suggest that authors should only write exactly what they know. That would obviously preclude anything I've written since I've never lived in Central America a few hundred years before Christ came.

But I want to see a mainstream historical polygamy novel that doesn't depict the Church as evil and cult-like. I want to see an LDS author who can truly relate to the struggle between head and spirit in following a commandment telling the story of those polygamist wives and their husbands.

What do you think?

*(Klose, Stephanie. "The More, the Merrier." RT Book Reviews. July 2010: pp. 10-11)

Friday, July 02, 2010

And Again With the Soap Box

by Kerry Blair

I know, I know. It's July 2nd and those of you who know me are either cringing in expectation or avoiding the Frog Blog entirely. For what it's worth, I'm well aware that I've climbed up on this red-white-and-blue soap box often enough to wear all the paint off the top and even crack a wooden slat or two. With both my boys stateside now, I'm trying to dial it down, I really am. I told my husband that I was not going to hang a mile of bunting and string patriotic lights this year. (I haven't. Yet. But I have dug the 4th of July box out of the garage and moved it to the front porch.) I told my son that I would not blog today about patriotism . . . or America . . . or (especially!) the men in my family who have been dedicating years of their young lives for freedom ever since some guys got together in Philadelphia and murmured, "Hey, how about that 'independence/democracy' thing?"

And yet.

True, my sons have completed their military service (I hope) and returned home safe and sound.

And yet.

America has 507,158 people serving in the Army; 357,693 in the Air Force; 179,762 Marines; 41,002 Coast Guard--and almost a million reserves, active and prepared to be called up. (This according to a DOD website.) Almost a quarter of a million people seems like a huge number--until you count the rest of us. So few do so much that goes largely unrecognized and unappreciated by so many. I just cannot let pass even this small chance to publicly express my admiration and gratitude to them and theirs. I don't do that often enough. (Pretty much only Julie does.)

I suspect that very, very few of us have any real idea what today's soldiers, guards, airmen, and Marines do (and have done) in our behalf. We don't know what they have faced, what they have sacrificed, what they have endured--and what they will never be able to put behind them. Not unlike other battles, even in Book of Mormon times, it is largely kids who are on the front lines of our war with terror. (And if you think the threats have lessened at home or abroad, well . . . let's talk privately sometime.)

My youngest son "celebrated" his 21st birthday in Iraq. Now 25, he is a sophomore at ASU, taking four classes over the two-month summer sessions to get a head start on an even fuller load come fall. For him, an average day begins at 5 AM when he leaves his apartment to work security in a government-contracts division of Boeing. It ends when the last math equation is completed and/or the research paper submitted electronically, almost never before midnight. He keeps up this insane schedule because, he says, "he needs to make up for lost time." Five years "lost" in defense of his country.

Someday I hope to convince Matt that those years were not lost. They were nobly sacrificed for great good in a time of great evil. As much as we might wish to send somebody else's family to the worst of places in the worst of times, our very lives depend upon us not leaving our nation's defense only to those with few other options. Young men and women of intelligence, courage, and integrity must continue to step forward in this and every generation. Admittedly, I wouldn't have chosen military service for either of my sons. Admittedly, I would take it all away even now if I could: the memories of fear and horror; the ongoing, endless internal debate suffered by even Moroni. My heart aches every day with the knowledge of burdens my sons must carry forever as a result of their service.
And they are two of almost 250,000,000.

With that in mind, please forgive me for yet another sermon to the choir. I will be forever grateful to those who have, do, and will serve our country. But this blog is more self-serving than that. I deeply feel the need to say publicly once again to each of my sons that even if nobody else in this world or the next takes note of those long, difficult, dedicated "lost years," they have made their mother so very proud.

Note: I had planned to run a really terrific guest blog today instead of running off at the mouth. (Fingers?) Please take in the all-around-amazing Jennie Hansen's blog on Patriotic Literature right HERE.