Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, October 29, 2010

Five Lessons (for Writers) from the Great Pumpkin

by Kerry Blair

How many of you saw It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on television last night?

It was almost as good as the first time I saw it thirty-four years ago. I say “almost” because the days of giddy anticipation have long fled. I miss them. Does anybody but me remember when we had three or four channels on TV and no concept of VCRs—let alone Hulu? Believe it or not, youngsters, as kids some of us actually had to wait days, weeks, months to view a beloved show. And when it was over, it was over. No rewinding, restarting the DVD, or running to the laptop. Sigh. I wouldn’t go back to those days, of course, but . . . okay, maybe I would go back, but only until after Christmas.

Anyway, I thought about our Frog Blog Gang as I watched the show. We were all in it, you know—though many of us keep changing characters. Here are a few lessons I learned this year from the Great Pumpkin.

LESSON #1: CREATIVE MINDS TEND TO WANDERAs the story opens, Linus and Sally sit in a pumpkin patch. Lucy and the gang trick-or-treat and plan their upcoming party. Everybody gives a nod to the fantasy of Halloween, but only Snoopy lives it. He hops from his airplane-cum-doghouse and finds himself behind enemy lines on a mission of utmost importance.

I’ve been there. No, not WWI-era France (even I’m not quite that old) but lost so deep in a story that it takes a tap on the shoulder—or kick in the shin—to rouse me. I’ve written two books now that end on Halloween. When I was working on the first, it was Halloween. In the real world, I stood at an open door in West Jordan, handing out treats. In my mind, I was someone else, miles away in a little town populated by people nobody else knew existed. At one point, my son took the bowl of Snickers from my hands and said, “I don’t know where you are, but these kids are here for candy.” Oh. Right. But then I was gone again.


Charlie Brown enters in a sheet with eight holes: I had a little trouble with the scissors.

This is where I am right now. I’ve written a book. I’ve studied writing. I’ve even published. Just as Charlie Brown knows what a ghost costume is supposed to look like, I recognize a decent novel when I see it. I’m just having a little trouble with the keyboard.

Another lesson:

At the first house:
Lucy: I got some fudge!
Schroeder: I got a chocolate bar!
Charlie Brown: I got a rock.

At the next house:
Lucy: Boy, I got three cookies!
Pig Pen: Hey, I got a package of gum!
Charlie Brown: I got a rock.

You’ve probably noticed that my fellow bloggers can be a little, um, much to hang out with.

Jeff: Hey, I got eight books on the market all at once!
Rob: Boy, I got a six-million-dollar contract!
Stephanie: My bag is full of Whitney Awards, wanna see?
Julie: I’ve got a new book, a new position in Storymakers, and a new baby!
Me & Sariah: We got rocks. They came with our houses.

You know what? There are years like that for all of us. (Sometimes there are years and years and years like that.) So what? There is no indication whatsoever—ever, ever—that Charlie Brown resents or even covets his gang’s treats. He hangs in, hangs on, parties with the rest, and then goes home to use his rocks for something fun and useful. (Believe you me, there are all kinds of useful, fun things you can do with rocks!)


Linus: There he is! There he is! It’s the Great Pumpkin! He’s rising out of the pumpkin patch! What happened? Did I faint?

While you have to admire his faith, Linus misses out on a lot of treats by sitting in that pumpkin patch. Meanwhile, Sally’s love and loyalty leave her frustrated and angry. Don’t get me wrong here, okay? Goals are great. Commitment is key. Writing rules! But none of it can ever come at the expense of our families, friends, and neighbors. When you’re not having trouble with the keyboard, it can be the hardest thing in the world to leave that little patch of sincere creativity, even for those who love you most. Sometimes we think we want a visit from the Great Pumpkin of Publishing more than we want anything else in the whole, wide world. But do we really?


Charlie Brown: I suppose you spent all night in the pumpkin patch, and the Great Pumpkin never showed up?
Linus: Nope.
Charlie Brown: Don’t take it so hard, Linus. I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life too.
Linus: What do you mean, “stupid”? Just wait until next year! The Great Pumpkin will appear—and I’ll be waiting for him!

Nobody needs me to point out the lesson here. Linus has been sitting in that pumpkin patch all his life...and most of mine! He is my hero! He knows absolutely that just because his big “it” hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it never will. He is the embodiment of with faith, all things are possible!


Linus: I’ve learned there are three things you don’t talk about: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.


If you missed the masterpiece last night, you can view it online on ABC. (Or YouTube. Or Hulu. Or probably a dozen other places.) All pictures are original to the movie. Quotes are from a 1969 United Feature Syndicate book version, written and copyrighted by the one-and-only Charles Schulz! (Published by Landoll, Inc.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Baby Love

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I wanted to thank Stephanie for posting my baby news for me last week. Last week is a week I will never forget. I know that the many prayers that were offered for me were answered because of the miracle I experienced during my son’s birth. We were having some complications and knew the baby had to come by C-section because he was breech, but at the last moment, well, some things happened that even modern technology can’t explain and we didn’t have to have a C-section after all. For me, there is no other explanation except that it was a miracle, and I am so grateful and still having tender feelings about the entire thing. It was such a sweet moment for me, to be so close to heaven in bringing this little baby into the world. I can hardly think about it without getting all weepy. For most of the week since his birth, I haven’t done much except marvel at him. I think I could just stare at his sweet baby face all day. There is nothing better than a newborn baby. Their fresh-from-heaven smell when you nuzzle their neck, their eyes that seem to want to take in everything at once, and the love that they bring to a family is a feeling that is unsurpassed.

Because of this development in my life, I have no writing advice for you this week. I know you have been greatly fed with Jeff and Stephanie, so I don’t feel that bad about it. I did want to share with you the lyrics to the song, “Smile,” by Uncle Kracker because it totally describes how I’m feeling with all this baby love around me right now. Thank you for all of your support and prayers. Frog bloggers and commenters on this blog are definitely the best.

By Uncle Kracker

You're better then the best
I'm lucky just to linger in your light
Cooler than the flip side
Of my pillow, that's right

Completely unaware
Nothing can compare to where
You send me, lets me know that it's okay
Yeah, it's okay
And the moments where my good times start to fade

You make me smile like the sun, fall out of bed
Sing like bird, dizzy in my head
Spin like a record, crazy on a Sunday night

You make me dance like a fool, forget how to breathe
Shine like gold, buzz like a bee
Just the thought of you can drive me wild
Oh, you make me smile

Even when you're gone,
Somehow you come along just like
A flower pokin' through the sidewalk crack
And just like that
You steal away the rain, and just like that

You make me smile like the sun, fall out of bed
Sing like bird, dizzy in my head
Spin like a record, crazy on a Sunday night

You make me dance like a fool, forget how to breathe
Shine like gold, buzz like a bee
Just the thought of you can drive me wild
Oh, you make me smile

Don't know how I lived without you
'Cause every time that I get around you
I see the best of me inside your eyes
You make me smile

You make me dance like a fool, forget how to breathe
Shine like gold, buzz like a bee
Just the thought of you can drive me wild

You make me smile like the sun, fall out of bed
Sing like bird, dizzy in my head
Spin like a record, crazy on a Sunday night

You make me dance like a fool, forget how to breathe
Shine like gold, buzz like a bee
Just the thought of you can drive me wild
Oh, you make me smile
(Oh, you make me smile)
Oh, you make me smile
(Oh, you make me smile)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Views on Point of View

by Stephanie Black

I enjoy writing in multiple third-person-limited points of view, where the reader sees the story through the eyes of multiple characters. This is not an omniscient POV. In an omniscient POV, you can move in and out of any character’s head whenever you want, and also add authorial commentary. In limited third person you can have multiple viewpoint characters in the novel, but only ONE viewpoint per scene—and no authorial narrator inserting things like “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom noticed it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” Omniscient POV worked wonderfully in Gone With the Wind, but is not common in modern genre fiction (the exception that comes to mind is Harry Potter-style openings where the author starts out broadly, but then zeros in to limited POV and stays there). If you’re writing genre fiction and start bouncing between heads in the middle of a scene, stop and think. Do you really INTEND to write in an omniscient viewpoint? Why? Are you SURE it works for your book and makes it stronger? Will editors like what you’ve done—or will they wonder if you knew what you were doing? Are you writing in Accidental Omniscient, i.e., you never really thought about it, but it would be handy to add Bob’s thoughts right here, even though up to now the scene has been in Jane’s POV? When in doubt, stick with third person limited. One scene=one set of eyeballs.

Whose eyeballs? You choose. Whose POV would be the most effective and work most powerfully in weaving the story you want to create? (But bear in mind the advice from my favorite writing guru, Jack Bickham, in his book The 38 Worst Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them): even with multiple viewpoints, you need one viewpoint to dominate the story. Make sure you’ve got a main character).

In my work in progress, I have a viewpoint character whom I’m demoting to non-viewpoint status. She’s a secondary character, and didn’t have all that many POV scenes, and I’m demoting her for a few reasons. 1-I was afraid the book was too soap opera, and her viewpoint scenes were among the soap. 2—The book was too long. It’s not deal-breaker long, but it could be tighter. 3-Removing POV from this character would make her more mysterious. On the downside, it removes the insight into her character and backstory that we enjoyed when we hung around in her head, but ah well. One must sacrifice for the good of the novel.

Making this change involved (or will involve—I’m not done with the draft yet) cutting a couple of her viewpoint scenes entirely, which includes moving needed info elsewhere. And in the case of a scene I wanted to keep, it involves flipping the POV so it now belongs to the other character in the scene.

Switching a scene into a new POV is not minor surgery. Even if what happens in the scene is still the same, it takes mega-rewriting to tell the story from a new POV. The thoughts, perceptions, attitudes, etc., now need to fit the new POV character, and we no longer get to peek into the thoughts of the other character in the scene. The POV character can observe, infer, and guess, but she can’t mind-read (unless your story is about telepathy). Here’s a sample—the first few lines from the scene, in two different versions:

One look at Carissa Willis’s flushed face made Summer switch the sarcastic greeting on her tongue to a new, softer one. “Thanks for driving all the way up here.”

“No problem.” Carisssa gave a smile that wilted before it formed. “Is—is Alan home?”

“No. He’s actually in Canfield. He and Gavin had some kind of business connected with Linda’s will.”

Carissa looked deeply relieved.

She really stinks at this deception thing, Summer thought as she waved Carissa into the house. Getting information out of Carissa was going to be insanely easy.

So we’re in Summer’s POV. What do we learn through hanging out in her head? We know Carissa is nervous because we see it in her face and hear it in her hesitant speech. What do we know about Summer herself? She doesn’t think much of Carissa, but she’s not made of steel—when she sees how nervous Carissa is, she tones down her urge to be sarcastic. We also know she wants information and she thinks it will be easy to get it out of Carissa.

Here’s a rewritten sample from Carissa’s POV. (I also changed the meeting place, so now they’re at Carissa’s house—that has nothing to do with the POV; it just made more sense.)

“Hi, Summer. Thanks for driving all the way out here.” Carissa’s cheeks burned at how stupid the words sounded. Why was she pretending to be friendly?

Summer smiled, but her smile wasn’t any friendlier than Carissa felt. She was very pretty and so together. Her shiny brown hair curved perfectly above her shoulders, and her olive skin was so smooth—how could anyone look that good without makeup? No, she was wearing a little eyeliner and a touch of mascara, but that was all. Her sweater fit smoothly over the kind of figure Carissa would need surgery to achieve.

Fighting an urge to suck in her stomach, Carissa asked, “Does Alan know you’re here?”

“No. I didn’t tell him anything, if that’s what you’re worried about. I haven’t blabbed your dirty secret.”

What do we learn this time around? We still know Carissa is nervous, but not because outside eyeballs see that she looks flushed. We feel her cheeks burn and know she feels stupid when she tries to act polite. The way she dwells mentally on Summer’s physical appearance and her own perceived shortcomings tells us something about Carissa—she’s got some hang-ups and self-esteem issues (here she is in a tense situation and she's self-conscious about her flabby abs?). Flip it back into Summer’s POV and no way would Summer see herself like Carissa does—in fact, she views herself as short and plain.

Point of view is one of the most powerful fiction-writing tools, so it pays to make sure you're wielding it in a way that will strengthen your story. Have fun!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Knowing Your Audience

Several recent posts got me thinking. In this post on agent, Nathan Bransford’s blog, Livia Blackburne talks about a test in which men and women had different reactions to seeing others in pain. Here, agent Sarah LaPolla talks about what a strong female character is to her, along with links to what a strong female character means to a YA author, and an editor. Finally, my own agent, Michael Bourret, talked about B&N rearranging their teen book section to focus on popular genres.

What do all of these have in common? Audience. You know, the people you actually write your books for.

As a reader you may not think about audience a lot until you discover someone else hated a book you really loved. Or the other way around. Maybe you have a discussion over lunch where your best friend gushes on and on about a book that totally didn’t work for you. Or maybe you see a Goodreads review where a fellow reader lambastes a book you adored. You ask yourself how it’s possible for someone else to have such a completely opposite reading experience as you did.

If you’ve been an author for very long, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The same day someone tells you how they raced through your book in one day and immediately started to read it again, you get a review from someone else who says your plot was full of holes, you characters weren’t even deep enough to be called two dimensional, and your ending was weaker than your mom’s cherry Kool-Aid (the kind where she tried to get by on half the sugar and only one envelope of mix to stretch it out.)

Obviously the story didn’t change from one reader to another. So why the difference? Part of it can be chalked up to expectations. Maybe Reader A went into the book expecting nothing more than a quick, fun, romp. While Reader B, was looking for something packed full of meaning and deep insights. I’ve been surprised more than once by people telling me how much they loved a book that technically at least, I knew wasn’t very well written.

More often, though, it has to do with what we call tastes. What you like, want, or expect in a book is affected by your background, previous books you’ve read, your mood, the genres you lean toward, your age, your gender, and dozens of other things. You don’t give it much thought when you are reading a book though. You either like it or you don’t.

For example, I started reading Twilight when the buzz was just beginning to really build. I knew it was a vampire book. I’d heard it was a “chick book.” And I knew that it was selling like crazy. That was about all I went in knowing. I soon discovered there were two groups of vampires. The good guys and the bad guys. As an action adventure, fantasy loving, paranormal reading, testosterone pumped guy, I immediately began anticipating the big battle. Good vampires + bad vampires = climatic battle near the end of book. I won’t tell you the words I blurted out when I discovered the entire battle takes place while Bella is knocked out and we don’t see any of it. But they weren’t, “Gosh, let’s get back to the smooching.”

Now that doesn’t mean I didn’t like Twilight. I thought it was a cool romance. For all the back and forth about whether the series was good or not, Myers nailed her characters and obviously appealed to the target audience. But it wasn’t the right story for me. I wasn’t that audience. In my version of the story, the battle would be great. Bella would kick butt, and drive at least one stake through the heart of the bad guys. After which I would have been fine with more sparkling and smooching. With the same expectations, Hunger Games was the perfect book for me. It worked on all levels as I devoured it.

As a reader, it’s pretty easy to adapt to the books that interest you. Generally you discover certain authors and certain genres. You read the kinds of books you like. You learn which of your friends and which blogs share your tastes and you pay closer attention to their recommendations than say, The New York Times book review. Hopefully you occasionally dip your toe in unknown waters, but when you do, it’s with the understanding that the water there might not be what you normally like.

As an author, it’s a little trickier. You have to understand your audience and write, if not specifically for them, at least toward them. You have to know what other books your audience has read. What kinds of characters they like. How big of twists they expect. What types of endings they are willing to put up with. And on and on. Yes, you can write for yourself. But if you do, either make sure you only expect you to buy your books, or that there are plenty of readers like you buying books.

So how to you write for your audience?

First of all, remember that all book reading audiences are readers first and foremost. The biggest complaints I see from readers involve slow moving plots, flat characters, and disappointing endings. Before you even consider what kind of story your readers will enjoy, you need to nail those three things. Yes, big name authors have gotten away with slow beginnings. You can’t. You have to grab your readers early with a gripping plot, and keep them hanging on every chapter. Your characters MUST have depth. They must be proactive. They must have a goal. They must have flaws. They must learn and grow. I teach a two hour hands-on class that barely touches on all the things your main characters must have. And finally the payoff has to be big. Your readers have hung with you for hours at least, and possibly days or weeks. Don’t wrap up the story in a couple of paragraphs unless you want your readers screaming for your instant tarring and feathering.

Once you’ve got that down, make sure you understand exactly the age and genre you are focusing on. Read books for the same target audience. The Chosen One and Uglies are both books about teenage girls, but they are very different genres. Can the same people enjoy both? Absolutely, but neither book would have worked if it had been written in the style of the other. If you don’t know what books are written to a similar audience or haven’t read them, stop writing and spend a little time reading what has worked in the past.

I’m not saying to copy another author’s voice or style. What I am saying is to study why certain books worked. What was it about Twilight that hit such a nerve with romance readers—especially younger ones? What made Scott Westerfeld’s world so compelling? Use that knowledge to make your unique story stronger.

As an author, I know exactly the reader I am targeting with each book I write. I hope that my story is universal enough to be popular with a wide range of readers, but if I can’t hit my target group dead on, I’m already starting with one huge strike against me. With Demon Spawn, I targeted teens, both male and female—especially those who liked dystopian urban fantasies like Uglies, Hunger Games, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and others. I had strong romantic elements with both angels and demons for those who enjoy paranormal romances like Fallen, Hush Hush, etc, combined plenty of action and adventure. I had a strong female character, who takes chances, but who is naïve when it comes to guys and believing everything she’s been taught. I gave her plenty of room to grow as the story unfolds.

As you plan and write your novel, remember who will be reading it, and make sure that you give them a story and characters that will resonate with them. Make your story your own. Make it something that stands out from the crowd. But also make it something that will be loved by readers in general and especially by “your” readers.

Friday, October 22, 2010

In Praise of Mediocrity

by Kerry Blair

My grandmother was a great believer in the idiom Any job worth doing is worth doing well. In fact, considering how long ago she began saying it, it may have been her idea in the first place.
One case in point for which she is particularly famous is table-setting. No matter the time of the day, the day of the week, the week of the year, and/or the scarcity of the food, Nana set the table. This, of course, required a clean, pressed cloth and napkins, dishes made of something other than paper or plastic, a full complement of flatware (even if serving sandwiches,) a pitcher for the beverage, and all condiments of any kind presented in matching serving dishes. Lest I forget, she must also have had a ceramic salt cellar, pepper mill, and vase, the latter containing whatever wildflower (or bare tree branch) was most handy at the time.

My grandmother got out every single one of those items. Every. Single. Meal.

Laundering and pressing aside, if I had a nickel for each plate, bowl, glass, and utensil that dear woman moved from cupboard to table to countertop to sink to drainer to cupboard to countertop to table (ad infintum) in her 94 years of service to hearth and home, I would not only be able to afford a reliable computer and Internet connection for blogging each week, I could hire a staff of top writers to do it for me.

Because of my grandmother’s early influence, I have a closet full of linen cloths and napkins. I own two sets of silverware (sterling and plated) plus two sets of flatware. In my cupboards and hutches are two sets of crystal stemware, two sets of everyday glassware, and more china and “everyday” dishes than any middle-class American woman could realistically expect to use in her lifetime. (But I do use them. The dog’s bowl was made in Italy. The cats dine from their own Blue Willow. Even the chicken feed is served up in stoneware.) Centerpieces? Martha Stewart has nothing on me. I have made centerpieces from materials (id est LEGOS & My Little Ponies) that Martha probably doesn’t know exist.

Now for a true confession. Despite my great wealth of tableware, I seldom put all – or even very many – of the aforementioned elements together at the same time. I can be counted on to “set” a table maybe once every twenty-one meals or so. (Thou Shalt Set the Table for Sabbath Dinner was the eleventh commandment in rural Depression-Era Kansas. On the few occasions I break it today, I fear for my immortal soul.) The rest of the time, I often pass on serving meals entirely. When I do serve them, I rarely do it “well.”

And table-setting is not my only failure. It’s not even one of the big ones.

For the first half (hopefully!) of my life I lived by my grandmother’s credo. Kindergarten was my first “job.” I often missed recess because I was still inside, tongue between my teeth, coloring ever-so-carefully within the lines. By third grade, a B+ on a timed multiplication test would reduce me to tears. I’d like to say I outgrew the madness, but the “do it well” mindset continued to dog me even after I left college to become a professional wife and mother. Suddenly, there were even more jobs worth doing. Well! With little kids everywhere, it was certainly worth mopping the kitchen floor. Ergo, I shouldn’t miss a corner – or a crumb. Same deal with Church. Being a new convert, there were a few years over which I researched genealogy until I had personally been baptized for about 65% of the female population of 1880 Hancock County, Indiana. I dutifully grew tomatoes under the Phoenix sun. (They cost us about $25 each.) Upon my introduction to the important job of storing food, I mastered eighty-some different gluten-and-soybean recipes – none of which my family would touch. It was no different when it came to the community. If it was worth helping out at my kids’ schools, wasn’t it then worth chairing every book fair and carnival at the elementary school while simultaneously heading up the PTA at the junior high, and band boosters at the high school?

I was not a well woman.

And then, thankfully, I got sick.

I know MS is a purgatory for many, so I want to be careful what I say here. But, since I have a recurring/remitting variety of the disease – and have been greatly blessed besides – contracting MS was honestly, for me, a little glimpse of paradise. All at once, no matter how much I wanted to be Polly Perfect, or how hard I tried, it was physically impossible to do everything (read: anything) well, especially all at once. Being not quite as smart as the average Blair, I first assumed this meant I’d have to give up everything important, all that that made life worthwhile, and just . . . I don’t know . . . puddle? Turns out, all I had to do was slow down long enough to finally tune in the Spirit. It's simply amazing what happens when you stop doing everything you think you should and instead start doing those things God thinks you could.

You probably never thought you’d hear me admit this, but my sainted grandmother was wrong. (Only about this. Everything else? Spot on!) It turns out there are all kinds of jobs worth doing that are not worth doing particularly well every single time. (Scrubbing floors and setting tables come immediately to mind.) Every job in life, large or small, worthy or trivial, requires a trade-off. In a Frog-blog related example, not one of the award-winning writers I know personally has an utterly spotless home. Do you think it’s a coincidence that the one incredibly immaculate housekeeper I know hasn’t read a book in twenty years, let alone written one? (I don’t know, either.)

The point is, you don't have to get sick (or even old) to reconsider your priorities. (Unless you're me; I'm very thick.) Regardless of our circumstances, health, and energy levels, I suspect we should all be a little easier on ourselves, and surely more judicious in choosing which of our many “jobs” are really worth giving everything we’ve got. We don’t have to compile a list. Probably we can just agree that if something will get us an nth of a degree closer to the Highest in the hereafter, it’s worth doing well. Everything else should be evaluated on a sliding scale.

That, of necessity, has lately included blogging for me. (Sorry.) Today I decided to forgo doing it well and just do it. Maybe I'm on to something at last . . .

Thursday, October 21, 2010

From Julie

Julie wanted to let our Frog Blog readers know that she is currently in the hospital. I'm assuming the baby is here by now, but I haven't heard any updates. The baby ended up being breech, and Julie needed a C-section, so I'm sure all prayers would be appreciated.

Julie is by far our most dedicated Frog Blogger--in the four and a half years we've been blogging, she has NEVER missed a week! That is AMAZING, and so is Julie--she is one of the most incredible women I've ever met in my life. She plans to be right back here blogging next week--did I mention that Julie is amazing? We love you, Julie!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It's Time for . . . Randomness!

by Stephanie Black

Bloooog desert here lately. Let’s see . . . Kerry and Sariah are both moving. Rob has strep. And I'm guessing Jeff is either traveling or he sprained his wrist signing a multi-million dollar book deal. It's not easy being both brilliant novelist Jeffrey S. Savage AND brilliant novelist J. Scott Savage, so we'll give him a pass if he gets confused and misses a blog.

Since we’re short on blog posts, that gives me license to be random today. That way, you can pretend each unrelated paragraph is a mini-blog, and it’ll be, like, wow! The Frog Blog has a bunch of new posts!

*First, our exciting event for the week: my daughter, her friend, and I went up to San Francisco to see novelists Dan Wells and F. Paul Wilson. We had a great time at the booksigning and were even there early enough to get front row seats. Woot! It was fun to see Dan again and to meet F. Paul Wilson, even if I did end up smiling at him with blueberries in my teeth from the incredibly delicious frangipane tart I ate for lunch. I also ate a ham and cheese croissant that was to die for, which I might, because it probably had a whole stick of butter in it.

*Does anyone else out there spend undue amounts of time searching looking for something else to add to your cart to bring your total up to $25 so you can get free shipping? Must spend more money so I can . . . um . . . save money!

*My son is having a great time learning to play the trumpet. I’m thrilled to see him so enthusiastic about learning a musical instrument (and the neighbors are excited too, I’m sure). He took piano lessons for a while, but never liked them and never wanted to practice, so—surprise!—he didn’t make a lot of progress. But ever since he's started the trumpet, he’s been blasting it daily and is learning fast. What’s not to like about an instrument you can blow so loudly that it knocks the paint off the walls? Bonus: it also involves spit.

*In other musical news, I debated buying a new violin bow, since my old bow is cracked—has been for thirty years. When I was in elementary school, I was walking out of a room and caught the bow in the gap between the open door and the doorframe—oops! Fortunately, the break was repairable, so my mother glued it back together, with the thought of buying a new bow when I started junior high. But the bow kept working, and I kept using it. When I tried out a few new bows a couple of weeks back, I liked the feel of my old one better. I asked the guy at the violin shop if it could be rehaired, and he said it could, so now my bow has new hair, and, somewhere, a generous horse is missing part of his tail. Our December symphony concert (I play in a community orchestra) is all Beethoven, which is awesome. It doesn’t get better than Beethoven.

*Last night’s black bean chicken chili was really tasty. It was also Monday night’s chili, which I'd cooked in my favorite pan, the Blue Pan of Happiness. We had a lot left over, so I served it again Tuesday night. Chili is always better the second day, and this was even better better, since I added a square of unsweetened baking chocolate. Oh yeah!

*Other chocolate news: I lamented on Twitter that I was out of chocolate, and chocolate guru Annette Lyon sent me an easy recipe for a cake that calls for cocoa powder. Isn’t that the nicest thing ever? I’m eager to get my hands on Annette’s Chocolate Never Faileth cookbook. The real question is—will I wait for my birthday (in December) or Christmas? Or will I lose patience and rush to buy it for myself?

*When we arrived at the elementary school grounds this morning, we saw some little girls jumping up and down and cheering, “Finally!” My son remarked, “They’re probably excited about the Apple Keynote today.” Har! Good guess. He’s been beside himself with excitement over whatever Apple is planning to announce, and would love to stay home from school so he can watch the announcement. Dream on, tech-boy. He said when he gets home, he’s going to zoom to the computer so fast that he’ll leave smoke in his tracks. That’s my kid.

*We watched "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." Why do I like that show when it's so depressing and I'm a happy-ending person? I think it must be the combination of nostagia--we watched it when I was a kid--and the fact that it's just so Halloweeny, with all the fun autumn-Halloween-looking graphics.

*What I wish I had right this minute: an omelet.

How about you? Any random thoughts you'd like to share today?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Rejection--Stings Like a Bee

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I’ve recently read several blogs from authors whose work was rejected. They were going through all the emotions of frustration and sadness, wondering if their work was any good or if they should just give up entirely. After all those months of waiting, it seemed so unfair and cruel to them to have the final answer be, “no.”

Most authors go through this. I did. I submitted my first novel to three LDS publishing companies. It was a heady feeling because back in those days, you printed the manuscript out, went down to the post office and mailed it. Just holding that thick envelope and seeing that I had done something worth submitting to a publisher made me smile on the drive there and the drive back. I got a post card in the mail a few days later from one of the companies saying they’d received my work, and I think I smiled most of that day as well. But a few months later, I received another letter from two of the companies that said thank you for submitting, they could see I’d spent a lot of time on the manuscript, but it was something that they couldn’t publish at that time, etc. etc. Although one of the letters had a typo in it where they’d put the “LSD market” instead of LDS and oddly, seeing that little typo in my rejection letter made me feel better.

When the last rejection came through, I did the one thing no author should ever do. I gave up. I put the manuscript in a little box and shoved it under my bed. I told myself that my writing was probably only good enough to be bound at Kinko’s and given out at family reunions. My manuscript sat in that little box for over a year. I thought about it now and then, but I never touched it. Finally, one of my author friends asked about it, wondering what had ever happened to it. I looked at her and said, “it was rejected.” She sort of looked at me funny and asked if I’d revised it at all, or started something new to submit. I said no. My one and only manuscript was under my bed gathering dust bunnies. She shook her head like she couldn’t believe what I’d just said. After that conversation, I went home and pulled it out, including the rejection letters. One of the letters had come with evaluation comments and I read those over. Somehow, after leaving it alone for so long, those comments didn’t sting as much and I saw the merit that they had. I went down to my computer and pulled the manuscript up and started to make changes. I was surprised at how good it felt and how much I could see where the changes really did need to be made. My author friend kept asking about it, and encouraging me to submit again, which, after several weeks of revising, I did. Within ten days I had an answer from the companies I’d submitted to---answers that were two offers. I chose the one I felt the best about and the rest is history. My book came out later that year, and I’ve published five more since.

But even though it turned out well for me in the end, I wasted a lot of time. I should have kept writing and revising, instead of having a little pity party for myself. I mean, rejection is hard for anyone to take, and I think any author who gets a rejection letter has the right to take a step back, eat chocolate, make a scrapbook of rejection letters, tell your best friend, whatever makes you feel better. But the important part is to get back on the submission saddle. Don’t let a few rejections beat you. Maybe your work needs revision, maybe you need to research different publishing houses that could be a better fit for you and your work. It might take a bit to figure things out, but once you do, submit again. And remember, rejection can be a polishing tool for your writing and will make you a better writer, author, and champion of your work, if you let it. Just don’t let your writer’s journey lead to a dusty old box under your bed. Let it lead to a published book on a store shelf, because, as my favorite quote says, the only difference between a published author and an unpublished author is that one gave up and one didn’t.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Piece of Paris

by Stephanie Black

I’m a lousy book reviewer. When I review something on Goodreads, it’s usually with one line—“Great mystery! Creepy!” I’m not skilled at whipping out insightful and intelligent comments on a book. It takes me forever to come up with something to say, and I really admire people who are good at reviewing. Good reviewers have skills, or possibly magic powers. I have . . . the ability to procrastinate by reading other people’s blogs while I’m supposed to be writing a review (Heather Moore has a great piece on her blog discussing her writing journey, by the way.)

But I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy of GG Vandagriff’s Pieces of Paris, which means I’m going to review it, so here it is: “Beautifully written! Exciting!” See you next week!

Ahem. Okay, fine. I guess I should make more of an effort or I’ll never be able to get my paws on another review book again (somewhere there’s a list, you see, and my name will be on it. Don’t send a book to her, it will say. She’ll only write one line and then she’ll meander off into a story about how her six-year-old has a cow every time there’s a Cheerio on the table. Cheerios are more feared around here than the boogeyman).

Anyway, here we go: first off, Pieces of Paris has a gorgeous cover. Don’t you love it? It has a gorgeous cover and an extremely talented author: GG Vandagriff is both a skilled and versatile writer. Her epic historical novel, The Last Waltz, won a Whitney Award in 2009. She is also the author of the Alex and Briggie mystery series; the sixth book in the series, The Hidden Branch, was released last fall. She also co-authored the book Deliverance from Depression: Finding Hope and Healing Through the Atonement of Christ.

Pieces of Paris
is in yet another genre—women’s fiction, or, for Whitney purposes, we’ll call it general fiction. Annalise is living with her husband Dennis and her son Jordan in a tiny rural town when flashbacks from her past begin to torment her, threatening to wreck both her peace of mind and her marriage. Before marrying Dennis, Annalise was passionately in love with a troubled, brilliant musician named Jules. The relationship ended so traumatically that Annalise coped by shutting it out of her mind, and cutting herself off from the music she associated with Jules. She started a new life with Dennis, a handsome, idealistic crusader searching for a paradise he thinks he’s found in the Ozark mountains. This strategy works for a few years—until her past begins to fight its way to the surface.

Dennis, who thought his wife was the epitome of calm and steady, is unnerved by the moody, tearful, unpredictable woman Annalise has become as she struggles to cope with vivid flashbacks of her life with Jules—a part of Annalise that Dennis knows nothing about. Her struggles force him to examine his own attitudes and expectations as he realizes he has cast Annalise into a role where perhaps she doesn’t fit. Annalise has to face up to the fact that, as a doctor and friend explains to her, the only way to get past her pain is to go through it. She needs to face what happened with Jules, and she needs to open up to Dennis about her past. It’s a difficult process for both of them.

I like the way Annalise and Dennis are both deep, rounded characters. Dennis has his own past and his own problems—he’s fighting against a company that has contaminated the soil with toxic waste, a quest that puts him in danger as someone works to deter him from pursuing the matter. Annalise and Dennis are both facing some difficult growth in their characters and in their relationship. I didn’t get much done the morning when I was finishing the book because I was eager to find out how it ended.

Pieces of Paris is a compelling, multi-layered novel. It was published by Shadow Mountain, Deseret Book’s national-market imprint. It has no specifically LDS content, but general Christian beliefs are important to the resolution of the story. Visit GG Vandagriff’s website here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Things Never Work Out As Planned

And sometimes that can be a good thing.

My dad read The Hobbit to me when I was in elementary school, and it got me fascinated with fantasy and quests and epics. So, when my fourth and fifth grade teachers asked me to write stories, I'd always start writing an enormous quest, describing the characters and their cool swords, all the wacky stuff they had in their backpacks, and how they were going to kick the bad guy's butt.

Inevitably, I'd get bored of writing this after a page or two, and I'd find a quick way to end the story. I'd set up the storyline so that the characters were going to have to overcome big obstacles and fight the villian, and I'd end it with "And they did."

It was a lot more fun for me to look at the beginning of the story and imagine the possibilities than to actually bother with writing it out. I just assumed that everything went according to plan: my awesome characters did awesome things, the bad guys were defeated, and everyone was happy.

But stories rarely go according to plan--we'd hate it if they did! We don't want to see a hero easily defeat every foe and waltz into a victory; we want to see him try and fail, and try and fail again, and barely crawl across the finish line against all odds.

One of the great military philosophers, Carl Von Clausewitz, wrote the following about battle:
"In war more than anywhere else things do not turn out as we expect. Nearby they do not appear as they did from a distance."

Clausewitz refers to this as friction: nothing goes according to plan because there are so many variables; the slightest thing could change (ruin) everything.

"...[A] general in time of war is constantly bombarded by reports both true and false; by errors arising from fear or negligence or hastiness; by disobedience born of right or wrong interpretations, of ill will, of a proper or mistaken sense of duty, of laziness, or of exhaustion; and by accidents that nobody could have foreseen. In short, he is exposed to countless impressions, most of them disturbing, few of them encouraging...."

The obvious comparison with all of this--especially in the context of this blog--is to our writing: it's this friction, these try-and-fail cycles, that make our stories interesting. They provide surprises and conflict and drama and suspense.

But that's actually not the point I wanted to make. Yes, things not going to plan can be good for our stories, but they can also be good for our lives.

In the Spring of 2009 I graduated with my MBA. Normally, the program boasts a 97% job placement rate at graduation, but the economy had just fallen apart and most of the graduating class was unemployed. We'd expected jobs approaching or above the six-figure mark, but that salary target dropped and dropped over the following months, as we became desperate for a job--any job.

My wife and I (and our three kids) only lasted for a couple of months before moving back in with my parents. Bills went unpaid. We were uninsured. Things were definitely not going according to plan.

Every day I'd go to my dad's office and work--I'd tweak my resume and call leads and scour job listings. And then I'd write, because I had nothing else to do.

In the fall, my brother, Dan Wells, came to me and told me that if I had something to pitch, he'd pay my way to the World Fantasy convention, and he'd introduce me to agents and editors. There were only two problems with that plan: I didn't have anything sci-fi or fantasy (which is what editors at the con would be interested in) and the con was only two months away.

So, I wrote VARIANT. I pounded through the first draft in a little under two weeks, and then spent the next month and a half revising and polishing. I went to the con and pitched very poorly (and unsuccessfully), but Sara Crowe (my agent) picked me up about a week after that.

VARIANT sold in April to HarperTeen in a fantastic three-book deal.

But here's the thing that just blows my mind: if things had "gone to plan", then I'd have an MBA job (that I'd probably dislike, because business has always been the backup plan), and I'd still write novels in the evenings and and on weekends. But things didn't go to plan--I failed to get a job. And there were dozens and dozens of try-and-fail cycles in those months of unemployment.

If things had gone to plan, I'd have never written the book. I'd have never gotten an agent. I'd have never gotten a book deal.

Sometimes it's great when things don't go to plan.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Outside Looking In

Tonight, as I stood outside my hotel room for nearly an hour, waiting for the maintenance man to figure why my key wouldn’t open the door (he finally had to bring a huge jack-like tool and pry off the outside of the lock, causing me to have to change rooms), I pondered what I should blog about. Then it occurred to me. Why not blog about being kept out of where you want to be?

It was either that or trying to come up with an analogy about the bathtub that doesn’t drain, and leaks—plink, plink, plink—all night long into two inches of standing water, but you don’t want to call the maintenance guy again, so you just live with it. And bathtub analogies are so overdone these days. You know, bathtubs are like e-book readers. It took a while for them to catch on, but eventually everyone started using them—except people who stink. And because of bathtubs, big publishers and agents became extinct, and the individual could finally decide what was really good without interfering editors.

Like that.

So back to being kept out of your figurative hotel room. Which in this case represents being published. As you stand outside the door—which represents the barriers to getting published (see the bathtub analogy above)—you think about all the good things you are missing. In fact if you press your ear to the door, you can almost hear everyone inside having a good time without you. Of course it could just be episodes of Family Guy and King of the Hill, which you can only watch while you’re on the road, because your wife hates both shows (and yeah, she's probably right.) But either way, you feel like you’re missing out.

And the more you wait in the hallway, clutching your chicken salad sandwich (which you ended up with because you went to some crazy Ohio fast food place that doesn’t actually sell burgers, chicken, or any other unhealthy thing, and has muffins instead of fries for a side dish), the more you start to think you’ll never get past that door. Maybe you’re not good enough to get inside the room. Maybe you should go to the little place down the street that has metal keys—which always work. And a vibrating bed—which only eats your quarters.

You wonder if there’s some trick to getting in the door. Maybe you have to know someone who has connections to the maintenance man. Maybe you have to do something different with your key. Hold the door while you slide it in and out? Slide it fast? Slide it slow? Slide two times quickly?

Every time those little lights flash yellow and red, instead of green and red, you become more depressed, and start eating your chocolate chip muffin, even though it’s supposed to be dessert. You know it’s only the key that’s being rejected. Not you. But you still feel like the door not opening is a direct reflection on you, personally.

But here’s the thing. Yes, knowing the maintenance man can help. But lots of people open the door without knowing the maintenance man. And there really is no trick. And whether or not the door opens for you says nothing about who you are. You just have to have the right key for the right door at the right time. As a very smart agent said to me once, once you reach a certain point, your writing is publishable. After that, it’s just a matter of finding the right person, for the right project, at the right time.

The thing is not to let that big heavy door psych you out. Doors can keep you out, but with the right key they swing open so easily you wonder why it took you so long to get in. But you have to be persistent, and eat the occasional chocolate chip brownie. And once you get inside, you’ll discover that the people in the room are no different than you. Except for Stewie, who really is different from everyone, and not just because his head is shaped like a football. They just happened to get through the door a little before you. But it’s a big room, and there is always room for more people. Especially if they bring more muffins and like strange and occasionally inappropriate humor.

Don’t like the analogy? Just wait till you see what I do next week with airline food!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Backlash, Demons and Pies, Oh My!

by Julie Coulter Bellon

As most of you know, I’ve been getting a lot of reading done lately. The memorable ones that I’ve read in the past two weeks have been Traci Hunter Abramson’s Backlash, Josi Kilpack’s Key Lime Pie, and I was privileged to read Jeff Savage’s new book, Demon Spawn, in manuscript form. They were all amazing books, but in different ways.

Traci’s books have been my adventure escape. She takes the “Saint Squad” on different missions to countries like Abolstan and they get into these impossible situations and have to think their way out of them. The heroes are nicely flawed, yet smart, protective of each other and their country without being obnoxiously over the top. For me, her books have been a nice way to get the adrenaline kicked up as I turn page after page to see what happens next. Her new book, Backlash, however, isn’t like that at all. Backlash is a very emotional book, with one of the Saint Squad dealing with problems in his marriage and problems in his job. There’s not a lot of adventure compared to her other books, and I think it was a real departure from her previous work, but it highlights her versatility as an author. The book will draw you in, adventure or not, because the tension is there for emotional purposes as well as the peripheral danger, and I really enjoyed it, especially the last scene. It was well written and while there wasn’t the normal adrenaline rush throughout, it was still one I’d read again on a rainy day.

Josi’s culinary mysteries have been my guilty pleasure. I never dreamed I’d be so interested in reading about an older woman and her adventures in solving murders, but each book in the series gets more and more engrossing, and I find myself unable to put them down. I read Key Lime Pie in one day and I think that it’s a close second to my all-time favorite Lemon Tart. Josi has such a depth to her plot layering and emotion that resonates through all the relationships, it is really fascinating to read. In this book, there is a body found that could be a long-lost daughter, crazy characters that become endearing and/or annoying, and a love triangle that twists and turns throughout. I thoroughly enjoy Josi’s writing style and the way her characters are so real, but we have the added bonus of recipes that made my mouth water, and look so easy that I think I should really try them. Definitely a five star recommendation in my book.

As for Jeff’s manuscript, Demon Spawn, I know he’s posted bits of it on this blog at times, and all I can tell you is that those little bits are just a small taste of how great this manuscript is. It’s written for a national audience, and is a departure from Jeff’s other books, but I think it showcases all of his strengths as a writer. There is no doubt in my mind this book has the potential to be as big as Hunger Games and other books of that nature. I can’t wait to hear what happens with it.

And if you’re looking for something to read, I heard the Christmas compilation that I was a part of this year, “How Will Christmas Find Us,” is out in stores, but no one I know has seen it yet. This booklet has a cute blue cover with twelve true stories from authors like me, Anita Stansfield, Clair Poulson, Jeri Gilchrist, and Betsy Brannon Green to name a few. I’m just so excited to see it for myself, so let me know if you find it out in the stores, will you?

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Worth of a Book

By Jeffrey Savage
(Warning: I wrote this Monday night at 10:00. At 10:15, at the very moment I was trying to post it, my internet provider's link to all things Google went down, and still is not up. I had to post this using my cell phone internet access. Coincidence? You'll have to decide for yourself. So yeah, I'm backdating this to Monday night.)

It’s getting very close to a time that is both exciting and nerve-wracking for an author. You’ve written your story. You’ve acquired the agent of your dreams. You’ve gone back and forth, changing, improving, polishing and editing. Finally your agent says, “Wow, this story really stinks!” Okay, that’s not really what your agent says—except in those reoccurring dreams that wake you up weeping on your giant pillow. (Ten points for the movie reference.)

What your agents does say is, “I think we’re ready to send this out.” Which translates roughly as, “You know that book you’ve been eating, breathing, and sweating over for the last nine months? Well you’re about to find out if it has any value in the real world.”

Of course that really isn’t true. Because whether or not the book sells, and even the size of the advance, does not really place an accurate value on a book. If it did, J. K. Rowling wouldn’t have gotten a single rejection. And books that completely bombed wouldn’t have gotten seven figure advances. It’s amazing how many times one publisher turns a book down, and another snaps it up, or the wide variance in offers from one publisher to another. You can’t set a price on a book, the way you can on a say a hot pastrami sandwich with brown mustard on marble rye, with a homemade dill pickle that . . . yummm . . . Sorry, moving on.

But it feels true.

You start having these discussions where your kids suddenly say things like, “Hey, Dad, if your book sells for a lot of money, can we go on a Disney Cruise?” You find your wife pricing a new tile floor and granite counter tops. Your oldest son asks what kind of car you’re buying him when he gets home. And you remind them over and over that you’ll be thrilled if the book sells at all.

But deep inside, you’re asking yourself the same question. Will it sell? Will it be a multi-book deal? Will it sell? Who would be my ideal publisher? Will it sell? Will we retain foreign rights? Will it sell? You tell yourself not to dream, but really you can’t help it. You go from researching all the deals you can find on Publishers Marketplace to bracing yourself on how you’ll handle things if you don’t get any offers. Because even the best book, repped by the best agent, may not sell.

What makes it even worse is a part of you is saying how crazy the whole thing is anyway. “You know what I don’t understand?” says a voice that sounds exactly like Andy Rooney at the end of Sixty Minutes. “Why anyone would pay anything for a story you made up? You can’t eat it. You can’t wear it. You can’t drive it to work. You can’t even touch it unless you spend a few bucks for a ream of paper and the ink to print it on.”

And you know the voice is right. Roughly a year ago you were about to fall asleep when you imagined a teenage demon waiting for a train full of humans who had been cast into Hell. Who would pay good money for a story you dreamed up?

But then you start thinking about all the books you’ve read and loved. You look around your office and realize that between you, your wife, and your kids, you own well over 2,000 books. Even if a good chunk of them are paperbacks (and probably 1/3rd of them are not) that’s still over $15,000 worth of stories. All of them made up in someone’s head. All of them nothing more than words on paper. And even if someone offered you twice that much to take away all of the joy you had reading them, you wouldn’t even consider the offer.

And there are certain books you wouldn’t give up for any amount of money. The first time you read The Outsiders, or Lord of the Flies, and were just blown away. All the times you’ve read Where the Red Fern Grows to your kids, and they never knew you suddenly had to take lots of drinks of water toward the end of the book not because you were thirsty, but because you were trying to keep them from seeing you cry. Lord of the Rings, Ender’s Game, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Something Wicked This Way Comes. All stories that you wouldn’t give up for any amount of money.

And maybe you aren’t Tolkien or Bradbury. But you must be doing something right when you get e-mails that say things like, “You deserve an award winning medal. I have never read books for fun until my teacher, Mrs. Cox, requested this extrodinary book to my achknowledgement. I thought it was some other book. I took a look at the cover and it sparked something inside me. I got two pages into the Water Keep, and it caused a downpour of gasaline on my desire to read.. I read your book for hours upon hours fuiling the fire lit inside me. “

And you realize that regardless of what happens (or doesn’t happen) over the next few weeks, the value of a good book is . . . priceless.

So what books would you never give up, no matter the price, and why?

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Stereotypical Characters

Moving has been hard (as I'm sure most of you already know). I feel like I've been ripped out of my old life and put into this new one, and those old roots went pretty deep. I'm still feeling that loss. I miss my house. I miss our life in Ohio.

Our Ohio house hasn't sold (because of course all this moving happened at the worst possible time for selling houses) and I've been tentatively looking for new houses (although I got an email yesterday from my agent saying he's had to take on a full time job but he's still doing the real estate thing. I haven't decided how I feel about that). My first night out, I found it. First house we looked at. That was the house I wanted to live in. I could see my family there, and it had everything I wanted.

But the next morning, as I went to log on to show my dad pictures of the house, the pictures were gone. The day before the house had gone under contract. I had missed out by a few hours. Everyone keeps telling me this is okay, it wasn't time yet, that we'll find the right house when the time is right, but I'm still kind of grieving for the house. Nothing else quite measures up.

Particularly since it seems like Utah builders are overly fond of very tiny rooms. I haven't figured out why this is yet. Why all the kitchens I've seen could fit inside shoe boxes. Why I can stand in a front den with my arms extended and literally touch both walls. Why bedrooms are only big enough for a bed and a dresser. Why all the floor plans seem to be one giant big room (do people not understand that I need a front formal room closed off from the rest of the house that always stays clean and where visiting and home teachers can come over and sit in and I won't be embarrassed?) Is it because everyone plans to do most of their living in basements (because I will give the builders that - the basements here are ginormous)? I mean, aren't Mormons known for having large families? You would think the builders would put up enormous houses that have room for all the kids you have. Most of the houses I looked at - if we tried to watch a movie in our family room we'd be tripping all over each other. And I can't even begin to imagine what it will be like once they're teenagers and 6'5". We need some room. So I have to find a house that will give me that.

But I've spent a lot of time people watching and listening to the people around me. Living in Utah feels entirely different than going to the Y. It trips me out to hear people talking about the baptisms for the dead they did last week as I walk past them in the store.

Speaking of stores, the other day I was hanging out in the Wal-Mart parking lot waiting for my mom to run in to grab a few things. Guy walks out with a faux-hawk, goatee, shades, upturned collar, and I thought to myself, he's going to get in that orange car with the rear spoiler and the rebel writing on the back window. He did.

The older couple in a suit and dress drove off in a big Cadillac. The bleach blonde with the tight shirt climbed up into the SUV with skull decals. The mom with four kids got into the minivan with the family stickers on the back (you know the kind I'm talking about - where there's a representative sticker for each member of the family on the back window. One time in Ohio we were driving behind a minivan and one of the stickers in the middle had been scraped off. My husband wondered what that kid had done to get yanked off the back of the car. "That's it, your sticker is off the minivan!")

We're constantly told to avoid stereotypes when we're writing, and I accept that as a just principle. Maybe the faux-hawk played classical music on the way home. Maybe the blonde was the stake president's wife. Maybe the minivan mom loves watching horror movies.

And I think that's the reason we're supposed to stay away from stereotypes. On the surface it seems so easy to predict what people will like or say based on how they dress or speak. But the reality is that there's a lot more going on underneath that makes a person (or a character in a story) interesting.

What do you feel about stereotypical characters? Are they unavoidable (especially sometimes in secondary characters)? What do you do to keep your characters from being cliched stereotypes?