Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, November 29, 2010

All I want for Christmas is . . . an e-book?

We have a rule at our house. No Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. It’s not that we don’t like Christmas music. It’s just the whole one holiday at a time thing. If you’re going to start playing Christmas music halfway through November, why not have your Turkey dinner before Halloween or shoot off fireworks in June?

Next thing you know, you’ll be buying your wife gifts and taking her out to dinner before Valentines Day. I mean . . um . . . okay, never mind.

However, now that the dinner has been served—along with numerous follow-up sandwiches, we can discuss the big holiday. With that in mind, I want to to talk about something near to my heart. Something that fills our spirits with joy, reminds us of the real meaning of the holidays, and warms us inside and out.Of course I’m speaking of e-readers.

Without giving away my age, I remember when the big things to get were MP3 players, CD players, cell phones, computers, DVDs, CD players, Sony Walkman (men?), VCRs (both Beta and VHS), eight track players. Yeah, I think that’s far enough back.

Each of these had a perceived and a real impact. Eight track players made it easier to put more music on one tape and access it more quickly. VCRs were going to kill free TV by letting people skip commercials. MP3 players were going to kill record companies. And to some extent all of these did happen. But at the same time none of them completely did.

As I talk to people about e-readers and e-books, I get the impression that this is Christmas/Chanukah/gift-giving holiday of your choice of the e-reader. Lots of people buying, receiving, or hoping for e-readers of one kind or another.

While I’m convinced e-readers are going to become as commonplace as MP3 players, I’m not completely convinced physical books are going away. Obviously that’s just my opinion. Spend a few minutes browsing the internet and you’ll find plenty of people predicting the demise of everything from bookstores, to publishers and agents, to hardbacks/paperbacks, to libraries.

As an author, I’m excited about e-books. I love the idea of presenting at a conference, school, class, or other event, and having people be able to start reading my latest book before I’m done presenting. I like the idea of people reading about my book on a blog and downloading it within seconds. I like the idea of people buying more books because they cost less. If they like one of my books, they can buy more without paying shipping, tax, or waiting for days. It’s the ultimate impulse buy.

As a reader, I can’t see myself giving up physical books anytime soon. I love physical books. But I also love the idea of carrying lots of books in one little device. I imagine I’ll get an e-reader, but still buy my favorite authors in hardback and paperback. I’ll still prowl used bookstores and visit the library. I think there are enough people like me that bookstores might change, but won’t go away completely.

So my question to you is, are you planning on getting an e-reader in the next 12 months? If so, will you give up buying paper books completely? Do you anticipate buying more books? Will having an e-reader change the way you buy books? Do you think you’ll download many free books by authors you haven’t heard of? Will you choose a $2.99 book over a $12.99 book, or will you focus mainly on authors you already know and love? If you aren’t getting an e-reader, is it a stance against them, the money, not a priority, or something else?

Tell all. I promise it will stay between you, me, and everyone else who reads this blog!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I've just returned from Thanksgiving dinner with all of our extended Bellon family--48 people in all. We had a wonderful dinner, games, and a lot of visiting. But we didn't talk about the upcoming BYU vs. Utah game. Everyone wisely avoided that topic since the family is half Cougar fans and half Ute fans and we wanted to keep the peace today. (But on Saturday, all bets are off!) However, it was suggested for family pictures tomorrow we all dress in our respective Cougar or Ute shirts. Wouldn't that be funny? (Don't worry we're not going to do that.)

At the dinner I was able to talk to one of my nieces and her mother about the books that she's reading and if I had any recommendations. It reminded me of how much I loved books as a young girl and how much I relied on them. My family moved around a lot when I was young and I was often the new girl in school. Books were always the constant in my life and I could always count on them to be there. I'm so grateful for books and the part they've played in my life. I'm grateful for the authors who wrote books like the Nancy Drew series so I could read and live Nancy's life vicariously, the Bobbsey Twins series, the Hardy Boys series, and the list goes on. Books can be an essential part of a young person's life---even an adult life---and I'm privileged to be part of that as both an author and a reader now. I've met so many wonderful people because I'm an author, and I've shared so many wonderful life experiences because I'm a reader. Some of them have even been with people from this blog--both bloggers and commenters and I thank you all for that.

I'm just very thankful for today and for the fun we had with family and the feelings of love that was shared among us while we ate some really great food. I hope you were all able to be with your loved ones today.

I am also thankful for all the comments last week of birthday moments. They made me laugh and they made me cry. You are all wonderful and I really appreciate your participation! Thank you.

I put all the names in a bowl, mixed them up, and my daughter pulled a random winner for my Christmas goodie bag and the winner is------

JANICE!! (whose hair caught on fire while blowing out candles. You poor woman! Did it grow back? Just curious . . .)

So Janice, could you email me your snail mail address at and I will get that goodie bag in the mail as soon as possible so you can kick off your holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Things Great and Small

On Monday’s blog, Jeff remarked that he dislikes doing those lists of things you’re thankful for, one reason being that when you put things like family and health on the same list as double-stuff mint Oreos, you sound a bit whacked. To which I say: it’s a good thing Jeff wasn’t at our Family Home Evening on Monday. Not that we were whacked or anything. We are SO NORMAL. We are so normal that if you look up normal in Wikipedia, it links to our family. Amazing, huh? We are icons of normality.

For our FHE activity, my six-year-old handed out pieces of paper and markers and wanted us to list what we’re thankful for. For her list, my six-year-old wrote kittens/cats, animals, our family members (listing them by name), house, food, church, and America. It was a very nice list. Trumpets, trumpet teachers, the army, Christmas, and water were a few thing that made my younger son’s list. Warm clothes, heating vents, shoes, and lemonade made my teenage son’s list. The new dishwasher (oh joy!) made a couple of lists, including mine. Man alive, I’m grateful for that dishwasher. It actually cleans the glasses instead of baking crud onto them. It’s a marvelous machine, and I am grateful for it. A few other things on my list: my family, my parents and parents-in-law on their missions, the Book of Mormon, the gospel, living in the USA, modern medicine, cars, computers, friends, central heating, and chocolate.

As you can see, we include both the huge things and the smaller things on our lists. Also, the, um, random things.

My husband’s list:

semi-sane kids
tree kangaroos

My sixteen-year-old decided to write her gratitude list including only things that begin with the letter F. Why? I don’t know. Her list:

federal government
flushing toilets
faucets with hot and cold water
the funky chicken
fava beans
Fellowship of the Ring
Frida Kahlo
fiendish plots
felt-tipped markers
Fortitude South and Fortitude North.

Yes, I did have to Google two of the things on her list in order to identify them. Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist. And Fortitude South and Fortitude North were part of Operation Fortitude, a World War II Allied deception operation involved with the invasion of Normandy (Thank you, Wikipedia). I am definitely grateful for the soldiers who sacrificed so much for our freedom, and those who are still fighting for our freedom. My sister visited Normandy on a work trip with her husband and put together a photographic book about it, with photos she took of Normandy next to World War II photos. I couldn’t make it through the book without crying.

How about you? What are you grateful for, big or small? (and no, you don’t have to choose things beginning with only one letter, though you can if you want).

I am also grateful that Jeff didn’t blog about this topic, so I could. Bless you, Jeff, and I’m grateful for Jeff, all the Frog Bloggers, and everyone who takes the time to read our blogs. I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving! (The plan for Friday morning: pie for breakfast).

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Black Box

I know it’s just around the corner from Thanksgiving, and I should be doing a post on all the things I’m thankful for. I might even do that in a couple of days. But I hate doing those for two reasons. First, they always sound like you just accepted a major award. I’m thankful for my parents, my family, my agent, my cleaning lady (no, I don’t actually have a cleaning lady.) Second, it always feels a little weird to make a list of everything you are grateful for because, really, can you put your family, your health, and double-stuff mint Oreos on the same list without sounding a little whacked?

So instead of telling you everything I’m grateful for, I’m going to write about something that is near and dear to my heart at the moment. Acquisitions. I’m not going to talk about where things stand with my latest book. It doesn’t make sense until things solidify, and besides, my agent would shoot me and delete the post anyway.

But I can talk about the acquisitions process. A lot of people (including me) wonder about the mysterious magical method of deciding which books are accepted and which are not. It’s this kind of supernatural black box. You put in a novel or work of nonfiction, stir, wait what always seems like far too long, and—tada!—out pops either a sale or a rejection. But how does it really work? Who decides? How do they decide? Today, I will do my best to open the black box and take you for a tour inside.

Before we delve into its mysterious depths, let me warn you that I am more of a guide than an expert. I have sold books and talked to editors and publishers about the process. But not being an agent or an editor myself, I have never been there in person. Also, different publishers do things differently, but I’ll point out some basics. Okay, put on your hardhat turn on your flashlight and let’s head in.

There are two different ways your book ends up in the hand of an editor. Either you send it directly if the publisher takes unsolicited manuscripts, or it is sent by your agent. Either way, the process is pretty much the same. Your manuscript is typically sent out to a number of different agents. The great thing about having an agent is that a good agent not only knows which editors represent what, but they also often know these editors’ personal tastes, what they have purchased recently, and what they are looking for. Bigger publishers have many acquiring editors, smaller publishers usually have a single person known as the acquisition editor.

Once the editor receives your manuscript, they read through it. I used to think this sounded like the best job in the world. Just sit around all day reading books. Unfortunately that is not the case. The same editor who reads new manuscripts also spends their day editing existing manuscripts. In fact, often, the only chance they have to read new manuscripts from authors who aren’t already publishing with them is on the train, at night, at home, during lunch, etc. (No, I don’t know if they read while on the toilet or not, and I’m surprised you would even ask.)

In the past, if an editor loved your work, they could take it directly to the big cheese of the imprint, usually called the publisher, for approval. These days it’s mostly done through committee. If the editor likes your work, they can either request changes, or put together something called an Acquisition Proposal, depending on how strong they feel your work is. I know it seems odd that an editor might ask for changes before agreeing to publish your book. But this actually works in your favor, because the editor alone won’t be making the decision. It still has to go through the committee who can kill a deal even if the editor loves it. So having your work be as strong as possible gives you a better chance for success.

Author, Harold Underdown, has created an awesome sample proposal here. It’s a good thing to look at either before you begin writing your book or before you start editing, because it’s probably the closest thing to a blueprint you will ever see of what makes a strong proposal. One of the things you might notice is that it’s not all about story. Things like competitive titles, profit and loss, and target audience are every bit as important as how well the story is written.

Starting to feel like your story is a product on a conveyor belt? It’s probably good to see it at least a little bit that way. You don’t want to think like this when you are writing the book. Don’t create your character’s attributes based on what you think will sell, or your story will stink. And even a story that hits the marketing bullseye will not do well if the writing is poor. But once you’ve written “the end” you need to start thinking about things like marketing, positioning, etc. Because to a large extent, you, your book, and your editor, will be judged based on how well your book sells.

So back to the process. Your editor sends the AP to the other departments and editors—marketing, sales, accounting, art, publicity, other imprints, etc. Depending on the length of the manuscript, they may also get an entire copy of the manuscript or a partial. Your editor is looking to get other people’s input and to get their backing. From what I’ve heard some of these meetings can get pretty heated. Your editor obviously wants to publish your book. But sales may not think it is unique enough to get attention. Marketing may not be clear on what genre it actually is. Accounting may think it doesn’t have a big enough audience to be profitable. The process of selling a book can take anywhere from a few days to a year or more. Typically an agent is going to hear back quicker than you will if you submit yourself.

At the end of the day, only some of the books taken to committee will be accepted. If yours is lucky enough to be one of them, the next step is putting together an offer. This is where things like royalties, rights, amount and payout of advance, hardback or paperback, marketing, territory, etc, are all negotiated. And again, this is where an agent can come in really handy. Very small publishers may not have a lot to offer as far as marketing or big advances. But even then, it helps to have someone on your side who knows what is normal and what is not. With a larger deal you may keep foreign rights and movie rights, get a $50,000 advance per book on a three book deal, paid out in four parts, be published in trade paperback, and have x amount of marketing dollars committed. With a smaller publisher, there may be little or no advance, and pretty basic rights.

If more than one publisher makes an offer, your book can go to auction. Generally this is a good thing because publishers who really like your work may make better offers. Of course it can also scare off a publisher who was still on the fence about the project. Deciding what offer to take is not always about just the upfront money. One publisher may offer a larger advance, while another lets you keep foreign rights and agrees to make your title a major release with more marketing.

One local publisher here in Utah, Covenant Communications, has a similar process, but after the Acquisitions Editor approves it, they send it out to Beta Readers and decide whether to proceed or not based the feedback forms they fill out. I’m sure there are other smaller publishers who do the same thing. Once you’ve agreed to a specific deal, your editor will begin going over your manuscript again in more detail to put together an editorial letter.

And there you go. Maybe not perfectly clear, but better than that black void, right? The thing to keep in mind is that once your manuscript is sent out, there’s not much you can do other than move on to your next project. It’s agonizing to wait—especially when you don’t even know if anyone is reading your manuscript or what they think of it if they have. But you have to find a way to take your mind off of it, and writing something else is a great way to do that.

On the other hand, when writing (and editing) your work, hopefully, remembering what lies ahead for your baby will make you think a little bit more about creating a story that is both well written and unique. Maybe you’ll take a little more time checking out the market, reading comparable books, checking reviews to see what readers liked and disliked about a particular title. And most of all, every time you read a book, think about the acquisition process and ask yourself what it was about this title that got it through the door. If you do all of that, your chances of getting your own book through should increase dramatically.

Here are some other helpful links about the acquisition process.

(Note: Here's the process as outlined by Covenant:)

* The acquisition editor receives the file and evaluates whether the story itself is appropriate for Covenant.
* If it passes the “sniff” test, it is sent out to readers.
* If their feedback is good, it goes to an acquisitions committee, and they decide if any changes are needed. The committee evaluates it from a sales, marketing, and profit standpoint as well as comparing it to other titles already scheduled.
* If they need changes it is sent back to the author.
* If no changes are needed, the author is assigned an editor, who begins work on the project according to the release schedule.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Harry Potter, Princess Kate and the HOA

Harry Potter rules.

And I mean that in every which way imaginable. We went to see the movie on Friday night, and time didn't just fly by, it took a trip on an X-43A (a supersonic combustion ramjet that goes 6,800mph). At the credits I said, "Are you kidding me?" How could it possibly be over? How could I possibly wait until July?

I don't care what the critics said, I don't care if it was art or a true film or bloated or whatever else they blather on about. A-ma-zing. I feel totally engulfed in this world when I watch these movies (much as I do when I'm reading the books). I can even tell you that someone who's never read the last few books (my mom) had the same reaction that I did to the movie (although she was a lot more freaked out by the Nagini scenes, because she didn't know they were coming).

I want to go see it again.

Speaking of the Brits, I was actually excited to see that Prince William and Kate Middleton are engaged. I watched videos. I read articles. And I tried to figure out why I cared at all.

There's been several theories floating around - that Americans consider British royalty to be the only actual royalty and thus, the only one that matters. That we were caught up in the celebrity and glamor of Princess Diana and so because of her tragic story, want to see her sons happy. Or that it's like a real life fairy tale - a commoner, in a very Cinderella like way, is about to become an actual princess.

But for me, I think it's about the love. (Which is probably why I write romances, for what it's worth.)

If you watch their first interview together after their announcement, I love the way they look at one another, how they have their own inside jokes and make each other laugh, how supportive he is of her and how protective. I love love. I love when people get engaged and get married. (And I would bet that her becoming a princess probably plays a part in it too. What little girl didn't want to be a princess when she grew up?)

Speaking of Harry Potter (one subject ago), my parents house is on a street that very much looks like Privet Drive. Before residential zoning laws were passed here in Eagle Mountain, builders came out and put up as many houses as they could on small pieces of land. So the houses are uncomfortably close together and many of them look the same (even now I have to look for my parents' cars so that I know which house is theirs).

Because of the closeness of the houses, there is little to no room to park on the street. Driveways are so close together that a car cannot fit between them. In the spaces on the opposite side of the driveways are the mailboxes, which means no one can park there during the day.

Not only that, but the HOA here has a rule that no car can be parked on the street for more than 24 hours.

There are also many families in my ward that are multi-generational families. The economy has forced them to move in together and so you have homes that have parents and grandparents and kids.

Which means more cars, and limited space to park them.

That doesn't mean there are no spots to park on the street - they do show up here and there where there are no mailboxes. But there are these people in the neighborhood who have made it their personal mission in life to make sure that no one ever parks on the street (they leave Post-It notes on cars with the time written down and a warning that they will call the HOA if the car isn't moved by the end of the 24-hour period). Not only on the street, but in particular, in front of their house.

For some reason they seem to think that this particular piece of the street belongs to them. They don't park their own vehicles there - they just don't want anyone else to park there.

If anyone parks in front of their house, they go to that neighbor and tell them to move their car (and one time added, "Please refrain from doing that ever again.")

It can't just be the HOA rules and that they're eager to enforce them - because the rules obviously don't apply to them when they bring their camper and park in front of their house to load/unload it for five to six days at a time.

Recently they called the police since my husband had parked in front of their house. The car had been there for less than 24 hours, but they didn't like someone being in their "property" so they called the sheriff. There wasn't much the sheriff could do since no laws were actually being broken (and I'm trying to imagine what they would have even said in the first place to get him out there), but it sort of stunned me that these LDS neighbors of ours would resort to calling the police because they don't want any cars in front of their house.

I'm trying to be understanding that people have different preferences. Back in our old ward in Ohio there was a family that actually moved because someone parked in front of their house on a regular basis and it drove the dad so crazy he moved his family. It's just something that's never bothered me. One of our neighbors in Ohio was a youth minister and he regularly had meetings at his house and so cars parked in front of ours all the time. Didn't upset me at all. So I'm trying to put myself in their shoes, but it is a little bit hard and seems a silly thing to get so worked up about that you would actually call the police.

My sister is tempted to park there every day just to annoy them. I will admit that the thought had momentarily crossed my mind as well. But the angel on the other shoulder told me to not be childish and provoke them and just forget about them. We do still park there on occasion as it is necessary (like if other brothers and sisters come to visit or we need the driveway clear for something), but it's not very often.

I'm curious as to what other people's opinions would be were they in this scenario. Would you make sure to never park there again? Park there deliberately? Not change your pattern of behavior?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Happy Birthday To Me & A Contest

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Today is my birthday. So far, I’ve had a really great day full of family, friends, good wishes and really really good food.

So in honor of my birthday I thought I would do something fun. Let’s have a contest!

In the comment section, tell me your most memorable birthday moment—whether it was something that happened, a party you had, a gift you received, just tell me what made it memorable for you.

What made today the most memorable for me was all my friends and family that called, stopped by, and emailed. It really made me realize how blessed and how completely lucky I am that I have so many people that care about me. I think the funniest birthday moment for me, though, was a message I got today from my baby sister who said, “Happy birthday to my bug sister.” I read that and thought, wow, I didn’t think I’d bugged her that much. Later on, she emailed and said, “Sorry, I meant big sister.” Suuuuuure, she did.

Anyway, back to the contest. In the comment section, tell me about a memorable birthday moment you’ve had, and next week I will randomly pull a winner from the entries. What will you win, you ask? How about a Christmas gift basket that includes the brand new Christmas story compilation book with true Christmas stories by me, Anita Stansfield, Betsy Brannon Green, Clair Poulson, and Jeri Gilchrist to name a few. It will definitely get you in the Christmas spirit!

So you have my undivided attention. Tell me, what was your most memorable birthday moment?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Clock is Ticking

I’m desperately behind on the work-in-progress I want to finish this month, so today’s post will be a bloglet.

Does anyone else think it’s completely insane that Thanksgiving is NEXT WEEK? Who pushed the fast-forward button? And once Thanksgiving passes, there are precisely fifteen minutes left until Christmas, so I hope you’re ready. I’m not. Haven’t done a thing about it, but that’s okay. I could live to be a hundred and twenty and I’d never morph into a superhero person who has her Christmas shopping done in July. Not going to happen. Another thing that won’t happen, barring insanity or an emergency: my going to a large crazy retail store on Black Friday. Are you kidding me? My daughter and I tried it a couple of years ago. We walked into Kohl’s, saw the size of the line, and bailed out. If I’m going to stand in a line that long, I expect to ride Space Mountain at the end of it.

With the end of the year approaching, the deadline for 2010 Whitney nominations is—not coincidentally—also approaching. December 31st is the final day to nominate 2010 releases for the Whitneys. If in the past year, you’ve read a new book by an LDS author and thought it was a worthy Whitney contender, don’t forget to go to the Whitney website and nominate it. The nomination process is easy and fast. Once a book receives five reader nominations, it becomes an official nominee and will go to a panel of judges, who will evaluate the books and select five finalists in each category. Finalists will be announced on February 1, 2011.

This year, for the first time, the Whitney committee has published a list of books that have received enough nominations to become official nominees. I was very excited about this because Cold as Ice is on the list. So are our other Frog Blog new releases: Julie’s Dangerous Connections, and overachiever Jeff’s two books—A Time to Die and The Fourth Nephite. So a big giant Frog Blog thank you to everyone who nominated our books! (Only problem with the nominee list: right next to it is a goofy-looking picture of me taken at last year’s Whitney gala. You chose that picture on purpose, didn’t you, Rob?)

I know the Whitney committee appreciates it when nominations come in sooner rather than later, since that gives the judges more time to read the books. If you loved a book and don’t see it on current nominee list, don’t wait—nominate! (Catchy, huh?) And don’t forget the books being released in the last few months of the year. Here’s a handy website where anonymous blogger LDS Publisher keeps a list of new releases by LDS authors. You can check her list to see what’s new, and if you’re not sure if a book you read was released in 2010 (a book must be a 2010 release to qualify for this year’s Whitney Awards), you can check the sidebar listing of Whitney-eligible titles.

Again, a big thank you to everyone who reads and nominates our books. We really appreciate it.

(Hey--this was long enough to be a full-sized blog, right? Do I get full credit for today?)

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Right Fit

Back in what feels like an entirely different lifetime, I opened a couple of computer stores in Northern California. For a variety of reasons I won’t go into here, I failed pretty miserably inside of a year. Suffice it to say that I was a great salesperson, an inexperienced manager, and a terrible accountant. When the dust had cleared, I found myself in a position where I would be forced to close both stores and lay off all of my employees in only a few days.

At the very last moment, a possible miracle arrived in the person of two men who offered to take over the stores. A meeting was set up where we were to discuss various options over lunch. My first clue that something was not entirely kosher should have been the restaurant. It was a dimly-lit, rather shabby, Chinese food place (and no this is not a kosher restaurant joke) where the men seemed to be very well known. Clearly this was not a real top-notch place, and just as clearly, they were regulars here. Imagine one of those Italian places mob leaders meet in all the movies, but change the ethnicity of the food.

At first they said all the right things. We want to keep the stores open. We don’t want to lay off any employees. We have lots of experience doing this. You didn’t do anything wrong.

But the longer we talked, the more uncomfortable I began to feel. They seemed . . . slimy. They didn’t answer my questions openly. They avoided specifics. They didn’t have any references I was comfortable with. Under ordinary circumstances, I would have walked away immediately. Except these weren’t ordinary circumstances. If I didn’t work with these men, my stores would close and my employees would be out of work. I had to decide if this solution was better than no solution at all.

I recently read this article about an author who reminds me a lot of these men. He appealed to authors who felt desperate. They had no money, no prospects of getting published, lots of debt. He seemed like a way out. And not only that, but he was a smooth talker. He knew people. He offered “connections.” The only catch was that essentially you had to give him all recognition, all control, and your complete trust. The students he spoke to had to decide whether signing a contract to write for him was a better choice than signing no contract at all.

A lot of times the publishing world feels this way. Do I sign the first agent to offer me a deal—even if I don’t have a good feeling about her? Do I publish my book with a publisher who has a terrible contract and a bad record? Do I go with the publisher that maybe even charges me to publish my book? Do I give up on publishers entirely and create an e-book on my own?

What makes these decisions so difficult is that often there doesn’t seem to be any alternative. If you don’t go with the agent who doesn’t seem like a very good fit, you may not get an agent at all. If you don’t publish with the publisher who wants a $3,000 deposit, maybe no one will publish your book. At least if you create an e-book it will have a “chance” of someone buying it.

The thing is, you have to step back and look at the big picture. If your book really is good enough that a legitimate publisher will accept it, there’s a good chance another publisher will be interested too. If not this book, then maybe the next one. If one agent thinks your writing is good enough to sell, isn’t it likely others will too?

On the other hand, if the publisher isn’t legit, or the agent isn’t very good, are you really better off signing your baby into their hands than not signing at all? Once you’ve published your book with a publisher who may sell only a handful of copies—if that—or who doesn’t do any marketing, or who may never pay you a cent, you’ve lost the chance to sell it to anyone else. Once you’ve had a bad agent get rejections from all the major houses, it’s difficult or even impossible to resubmit to them. Not to mention the time and energy you’ve wasted.

Going back to my original story, the men at the meeting pushed me to sign a contract then and there. When I told them I wanted to think it over, they began threatening to cancel the whole deal. That was enough for me. I got up and left the meeting. Of course, once they realized I was really going, they made me take the contract with me. Looking it over later that day, I realized I was giving them all of my inventory and assets, while they were guaranteeing absolutely nothing. They didn’t guarantee to keep the stores open. They didn’t assume any leases or debts.

As I talked to other people, I discovered these men had pulled this same scam many times. As soon as I signed the contract, they would have taken all of my assets and disappeared. Signing a deal with them was actually worse than not signing anything at all. Any time a publisher or agent asks you for money up front, I guarantee that you are better off with no deal at all.

I’m not saying all bad fits are scams. There are lots of smaller publishers who just don’t have much in the way of resources. There are agents who are simply not the best fit for your work, or don’t have the types of connections other more successful agents do. And maybe they will work out just fine. You might do perfectly well in either of those situations. Sometimes an imperfect fit is better than no fit at all.

But if you decide to sign a less than ideal deal, make sure you are doing it because it’s the right solution for you, and not because you feel it is the only solution. A good agent once told me that when you reach a certain point of writing, you are publishable. Then it’s just a matter of finding the right fit at the right time. Don’t be wooed by someone telling you how incredible you are, or how you have to sign right away. Of that this is your only chance at success.

If this opportunity you are considering isn’t the right one, have the confidence in yourself and your work to walk away—knowing that down the road you will find the right fit, and that by saying no now, you are getting that much closer to the yes you are looking for.

So how do you feel? If you had the chance to sign with an agent, even of that agent wasn’t very good and didn’t have the best contacts, would you do it anyway, figuring, “Hey, at least it’s an agent.” If you got an offer to publish your book by a publisher most authors were unhappy with, would you go ahead anyway? Or would you wait for the best match for you and your work?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Brave New World

Nope, not a post about Aldous Huxley. (Aren't you glad?)

Instead, I did something this week I haven't done in about three years.

I sent my editor a completed book.

Now before anyone gets too excited, it is a work of non-fiction and I have no idea whether or not my publisher will even want it.

It's a shorter, booklet type deal, so not as many words as I normally have to write.

But I did it.

I debated about whether I should hold off on sending it, rereading it, proofing it, but my husband reminded me that it had been so long since I'd actually done this step that I needed to just turn it in. He was right.

(And when my brother-in-law asked me that night what was going on with my books, which is a question I routinely get asked and one I find very disheartening and depressing, it was so nice to say, "I turned one in today.")

You know it's been a long time since you've finished something when your editor begins his reply email with, "So, you didn't actually fall off of the face of the earth."

It feels good. I'm a writer who loves being done with a book, loves having written something. I don't have a hard time leaving characters behind, I'm usually just so happy that the work is complete and I'm done and can move on to the next thing.

So I'm using this momentum to start back up on my fiction writing. I've discovered though that when you write a non-fiction book about something you're very comfortable with/know a lot about, the words can just pour out of you. I did 5,000 words in one day. Seriously. 5,000. I don't think I've ever even done that in a week before, and I did it in one day in between taking the kids to school/preschool, taking care of said kids, feeding everyone, dressing/undressing them, changing diapers, etc. (You will note, however, that there is no mention of housework in that sentence.) It was so amazing. I wish I could write fiction that like that!

But I'm a laborer type of author, and there are times when I fight for every word on the paper; although I have had experiences where it was like opening the floodgates and the words just rushed on to the page so quickly that I had a hard time keeping up. But that's the exception for me, and not the norm.

I'll let you guys know whether the booklet makes it or not. But right now that doesn't even seem to matter much to me.

It just matters that I did it. I did it!

And I know I can do it again.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pithy Paraprosdokian Proverbs

I totally can't blog today, but I've been saving a forward for just such an occasion! What I liked most about this e-mail, frankly, was the word itself: paraprosdokian. It's kinda hard to work into conversation, but fun to roll around on the tongue.

In fact, I like paraprosdokians so much, I have decided to collect them. (Much cheaper than Lladro.) I hope you'll enjoy these gems from my new collection and add your own favorites.

Here is the forward; I'd credit it if I could:
A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to re-frame or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect.

Paraprosdokian sentences:

Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

We never really grow up; we only learn how to act in public.

War does not determine who is right -- only who is left.

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

Evening news is where they begin with 'Good evening,' and then proceed to tell you why it isn't.

To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. My desk is a work station.

Dolphins are so smart that within a few weeks of captivity, they can train people to stand on the very edge of the pool and throw them fish.

Whenever I fill out an application, in the part that says "In an emergency, notify:" I put "A DOCTOR."

I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!

I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not sure.

Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
And, perhaps the most appropriate here:
You're never to old to learn . . . something silly!
Happy Weekend, All!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembrance Day

by Julie Coulter Bellon

All over Canada today, citizens will be wearing poppies in observance of Remembrance Day. As a schoolgirl I remember wearing the poppy, trying to pin it on properly so it wouldn’t fall off during the day as we attended assemblies that taught us about those who had sacrificed everything to serve their country. Inevitably, there would always be a moment of silence and I would think about my grandfather, a veteran of the Korean war, and how proud I was that he had served his country honorably. After the moment of silence, we would all recite the poem, In Flanders Fields. That poem has stuck with me through all these years because of the graphic imagery.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The first verse describes Flanders fields where, during and after World War I, the red poppies bloomed across those battlefields where so many lost their lives---the red color becoming symbolic of the blood spilled there.

I always get weepy at the second verse. For some reason, just thinking about how young and alive those soldiers were, and how someone loved them and they loved them back, and now they are gone, makes my heart ache. Being a soldier affects so many people—mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children, even society feels the loss of those who give their lives for freedom.

The third verse passes the torch on to all of us, to do our best to protect freedom for ourselves and those around us. To support those who are on the front lines of this fight and to always remember those who have gone before.

So on this Remembrance Day for my Canadian friends, and Veterans Day for my American friends, I am going to look at my poppy and take a moment of silence to remember those who have fought a valiant fight. I am going to pray for the safety of those who are continuing on with that battle. And I’m going to teach my children about honor and patriotism and what it means to defend it, especially in this day and age.

Will you join me?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Putting My Manuscript to the Test

by Stephanie Black

On Saturday while I was sitting in the car waiting for my daughter, I finished draft three of the book currently known as Rearview Mirror. Side note: I love writing when I’m in the car waiting for a kid. It tends to be productive time, because there’s no Internet to distract me. No email. No blogs. And on this particular day, taking my daughter to her meeting was a special bonus, because if I’d been at home, I would have been helping my husband finish our project of getting the garage ready for the termite guys to come treat it. Our garage was a trash pit from heck—the inspector’s initial report said something along the lines of how he couldn’t inspect the garage because it had a lot of storage. Ha. Very tactful. That’s like saying a slab of rotting meat has lots of vibrant life forms. Technically, it’s true, but it doesn’t hint at the scope of the disgustingness involved. So needless to say, I wasn’t at all sorry to bail out on the garage project and go sit peacefully in the car, working on my book.

With draft three done, it became time for . . . yeeks! . . . test reads. This is my current modus operandi: go through two drafts, then print out the second draft and read it to see how it works. Do a third draft, then send it out to test readers. Get their feedback, do a 4th draft, then send it to my editor. With this system, no eyeballs but mine see the book until draft three, so getting that very first feedback is a BIG moment of truth. What will the readers say? WILL THEY LIKE IT?

Here’s the list of questions I sent to my test readers:

Opening: Did the opening grip you and hold your interest? Did you want to continue reading? Or did it take you a while to get interested in the story?

Pacing: Did the story move at a good pace? Were there spots where you found yourself getting bored or where you felt the story was dragging? Did suspense build throughout the story? Did scene and chapter endings make you want to keep reading?

Clarity: Was everything clear, both in the backstory (events that happened before the novel opens) and the current story? Were there spots where you got confused?

Characterization: Were the characters believable? Did they think and act and react like real people? Did the dialogue sound realistic and appropriate to the character speaking? Did character motivations make sense, at least to the character? Did you like the main character? Were you rooting for her?

Mystery: Were the mystery elements of the book effective in raising questions in your mind as you read and in building suspense? Did you wonder who the villain was and consider various suspects, or did his/her identity seem obvious from the beginning?

Resolution: Were you satisfied with the ending? Were there any questions you felt were left hanging?

The good news is I’ve heard back from two of my test readers, and . . . and . . . they liked it! Hooray! I’m thrilled! Their feedback is super helpful, both in letting me know that overall, the story works, and in pointing out places where the manuscript could be stronger. I’m excited to work on the issues they spotted—for instance, a character action that doesn’t seem quite credible, a character who’s a bit flat, redundancy, and so on. Oh and there was that red herring I completely forgot about—never did resolve the deal with that. Oops. Thank heavens for test readers. Since every reader notices different things, I’ll likely have additional issues to address once I hear back from my other readers. There is no way I would ever consider submitting a manuscript without having test readers look it over. It’s impossible for me to notice every problem with the manuscript, no matter how many times I go through it. The fresh perspective that test readers bring to my work is vital.

To all the writers out there, at what point do you seek feedback on your manuscript? Chapter by chapter? First drafts? Second, third, or later?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Not Me!

By Jeff Savage

When I was in school (you know back before computers, DVDs, whiteboards, felt tip pens, cars, fire. Okay maybe not that long ago, but you get the idea) I was often accused of thinking that the rules everyone else had to follow didn’t apply to me. I talked in class without being called on. I stared out the window and daydreamed. I had swordfights with dull scissors. I left school grounds to look for fossils during recess. I wrote on my desk. I taped up a sign that said class had been canceled due to a heating failure.

This didn’t help my grades (or my mother’s health) most of the time. My teachers constantly told me how much better I would be doing if I just paid attention and followed the rules. Interestingly enough, many of the things that got me in trouble in class have helped me in my writing. Having a vivid imagination, envisioning epic battles, having way too much to say, and a desire to explore unknown territory are great ways to come up with creative story ideas.

Not coloring inside the lines can be great for an author. But just as it was a detriment in school, believing that the rules don’t apply to you as an author can have disastrous results.

It might sound like I’m speaking out of both sides of my mouth (an expression I’ve never completely understood since speaking out of only one side of your mouth makes you seem odd at the least, and highly suspicious of some nefarious activity at the worst.) How can not following the rules be both good and bad?

Thinking differently is a good way to find a new perspective. When I was imaging Demon Spawn, I started with the basic assumption most people have that angels are good and demons are bad—with humans falling somewhere in between. But what if you saw the world through the eyes of the demons? Might angels be bad? How would demons view Hell—their home—and the humans damned to spend eternity there? Not sticking with the usual rules helped me see things if a different light.

But one thing I see a lot as I teach writing classes and attend conferences is people who believe the things they are being taught don’t apply to them. Prologues don’t usually work? Mine does. Beginning your story with a dream sequence is a bad idea? Mine doesn’t count. Head-hopping within the same chapter or section is generally a bad idea? But look at this great author or that one who got away with it.

We agree with the rules that we followed in our books, but the ones we broke are really more like suggestions. It’s okay for us to break them, because they don’t apply to us.

Here’s the thing. Every rule has been broken by a good author who knows what they are doing. I recently read, “You,” which is written in present tense, second person. “You see this. You do that.” See what your creative writing teacher thinks of that idea. I’ve read books by famous authors that start with flashbacks, dreams, flowery descriptions. I’ve read books where absolutely nothing happens for the first hundred pages. If you want to disagree with a writing rule, you can find an example of pretty much anything.

Sports are the same way. There are amazing basketball shooters who launch the ball off balance, from one side of their body, while falling away. There are batters who stick their elbow out, or bounce their arm up and down while the pitcher is throwing the ball. There are quarterbacks that throw sidearm. Superstars break all the rules and get away with it. Does that mean coaches should teach young athletes to imitate those styles?

Those athletes get away with these flaws because they are so incredible. They succeed despite the fact that they are “doing it wrong.” They’ve managed to teach themselves to hit the ball or make the shot, while compensating for the errors that you or I could not get away with. If we tried to imitate them, we’d fail miserably.

Can you break a rule and still write a great book? Of course. Does that mean you should ignore the rules? Definitely not. If you fill a chapter with back story and infodumps, 99.9 times out of a hundred you are wrong. Can you make it work? Maybe, but the odds are hugely stacked against you. The rules are there for a reason. Before you break them, ask yourself if there is any way you can avoid it. Do you really need that flashback on page two? Even if it will probably get your novel rejected? Is your story really strong enough to survive a protagonist that doesn’t learn and grow during the story?

Breaking rules is inevitable, and sometimes it is the right thing to do. But the rules are there because the vast majority of the time, breaking them will make your story worse, not better. Every time you are tempted to break the rules, do three things.

1) Make sure you understand what the rule is and why it is there in the first place.

2) Examine your story and see if there is a way to accomplish what you want without breaking the rule.

3) Try writing your prose while keeping the rule and see which version your beta readers like better.

If after all that, you still want to break the rule, go ahead and swing away. Just make sure you hit the ball.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and the Other Stuff

Hey, remember me?

I keep meaning to post. I really do think about it all day Saturday. But as those of you who have moved (and not only moved into a new home but moved into somebody's basement), it is time consuming adjusting and unpacking and sorting and all the stuff that goes along with it.

Plus, I keep having random thoughts that I'm not sure would make full blog posts, so I thought I'd share some of them with you.

Let's get the complaining out of the way first:

* - So we had a month with no insurance. I recently read a blog where a woman was in a similar circumstance (only her no insurance period lasted five months) and they were really blessed in that nothing bad happened to them, until the week they got their insurance and then kids were busting limbs and getting ear infections, etc.

Well, I got no such grace period. Right before General Conference weekend, my now 20-month-old was chasing his 3-year-old sister up the stairs because she had M&Ms. She didn't want to share (I know this may surprise some of you). The next thing I heard was "No!" and then thump, thump, thump, crying. I was worried about a head injury - and I watched him for vomiting or eye dilation or unintelligible speech (which, to be fair, he was only 19 months old. Most of his speech is unintelligible.) He seemed fine. After a cuddle he was off and running around.

Then on Monday, three days later, I noticed he wasn't using his left arm at all. Freaked me out. Ran to the pediatrician, got X-rays, and he had managed to break both of the bones in his forearm!

He was in a cast for awhile, and then suddenly the orthopedist called me after one of our weekly X-ray sessions to tell me that his bones had bent too much in one direction, weren't self-correcting and so the baby would now need to come to outpatient surgery so they could fix the bend themselves (they still won't tell me what they did to him - only that they had to knock him out to do it). He's in a new cast, supposed to get a shorter cast this week...and can you just imagine the medical bills for this one?

I'm also apparently grinding and clenching my teeth while I sleep...which led me to breaking off a large chunk of one of my back molars (which completely scared me because I have all these nightmares about my teeth falling out). I had to wait until Nov. 1 to get that taken care of (when the new insurance kicked in) - not a great experience (I get a crown next week). All very expensive, even with the "insurance." Fun, fun, fun.

* - Had a section here on the 14 fundamentals for following the prophet cited in General Conference, but decided it was probably too inflammatory and have since removed it (just know that when it was first given, Elder Benson was rebuked by President Kimball for it).

* - I now live in the safest place in America. Eagle Mountain.

First, to even get to me, you quite literally have to cross a desert (for those of you familiar with Eagle Mountain, I'm living near City Center). And I know it's a desert/range because we get to see the actual antelope playing near the side of the road all the time.

So you have to have enough gumption to commit your crime by driving to the Middle of Nowhere, but then you're going to have to choose which house to break in to very wisely once you get here.


Because a police officer lives in every third house. I'm not kidding. If you've ever wondered where your local policeman lives, I can tell you he lives in my neighborhood. Police cars EVERYWHERE from West Jordan, Orem, Sandy, Salt Lake, etc. Driving out of here to reach civilization is a harrowing experience because every other car is a cop.

And since there is no crime here, the local police officers hand out a lot of speeding tickets.

Which leads me to my next point -

* - I now understand why Utahns speed. It's because you have what is quite possibly the stupidest speed limits I've ever seen.

As I cross the desert, going to the Middle of Nowhere, you'd expect the road to be 50, possibly even 55.

Nope. 40 freaking miles an hour.

To take my daughter to preschool, here are the various speed limits I drive through - 25 to 35 to 40 to 35 to 45 to 25 to 50 to 25. And they just randomly change with little rhyme or reason. The speed limit outside the elementary school - 35 mph. Outside the high school - 25. (And I wonder whether this is some sort of indication that small children are faster than their teenage counterparts.)

So, as a result of the lame speed limits, I too am finding myself becoming a speeder.

* - Smith's doesn't double coupons. Epic fail.

* - Nobody wants to buy my house in Ohio. Double epic fail (and quite possibly the reason for the broken tooth).

* - We have to save 3.5% to get a mortgage for a new house. As our house in Ohio isn't selling, it will probably take a very long time before we can save that much money. I'm hoping to be out of my mom's basement before the oldest leaves on his mission (he's eleven).

But as today's lesson in Relief Society reminded me to be grateful, I will say that I am grateful to be here safe and sound with my little family. I'm grateful to be closer to our extended family, and I'm grateful that we have a place to live and can provide for our needs and that we have a job and that even though everything seems tough, we still have each other.

(And my kids are thankful for being able to walk to church. They think this is the coolest thing ever.)

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Happiness Machination

by Kerry Blair

The missionaries showed Man’s Search for Happiness at my baptism. I sat with damp hair among my non-member friends and family, thinking that while the message was thrilling, the title needed work. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not make people happy.

I’ll wait while you scream “Heretic!” and/or run for the smelling salts.

Now that you’re back, I’ll explain. I was not looking for happiness when I found the Church. I was young, healthy, and already as happy as anybody has a right to be. I wanted to be baptized because reading the Book of Mormon brought into my heart a sensation that was to happiness as a molehill is to Everest. The scriptures call it joy, and the Lord told a prophet it is the reason for our existence. Happiness is mentioned in the scriptures, but only as a synonym for joy. Nowhere is it written that man is that he might be happy. It’s a good thing, too. While joy is the same today as it was in Adam’s dispensation, happiness in modern times often means getting what you want when you want it.

It is the latter-day definition of happiness that leads Leo Auffmann* to build a Happiness Machine in 1928 Green Town, Illinois. His motives are altruistic. He wants to manufacture happiness for people who lack it, and preserve the happiness of people (like himself) who experience it every day. He plans and schemes and works diligently to cram in all the happiness-producing things he can think of: youth, dancing, beautiful sunsets, Paris in the spring. By the time he has transformed these “best things in life” into a miraculous invention, he’s mostly alienated his children, and his wife is divvying up their community property, but he has done it!

Well, almost. Leo’s Happiness Machine makes everyone who enters it deliriously happy for a few minutes, but they then leave the contraption inexpressibly sad.

“I feel awful, terrible,” Lena Auffmann wails upon exiting. “First, there was Paris . . . “

“What’s wrong with Paris?”

“I never even thought of being in Paris in my life. But now you got me thinking: Paris! So suddenly I want to be in Paris and I know I’m not!” Eventually, she calms down and explains, “Leo, the mistake you made is you forgot that some hour, some day, we all got to climb out of that thing and go back to dirty dishes and the beds not made. While you’re in that thing, sure, a sunset lasts forever, the air smells good, the temperature is fine. All the things you want to last, last. But outside, the children wait on lunch, the clothes need buttons. And then let’s be frank, Leo, how long can you look at a sunset . . .?”

As long as we are being frank, unmade beds and unbuttoned shirts are the least of my worries. What sent me to the bookshelf to exhume this treasure was, first, a series of saddening situations befalling family, friends, and friends-of-friends. (Enough to make one wonder how anybody could ever feel happy again.) My second motivation was the sudden appearance of holiday ads everywhere I turn.

Advertising is, I swear, a vast, pernicious Unhappiness Machine. I have thus far lived in relative contentment without experiencing the wonders of Paris, but I do often fall prey to smaller enticements—even though I know better. One evening of television with my mother might persuade me to believe Thanksgiving will be a disaster without that green bean casserole everybody hates. Furthermore, family and friends will be so disgusted by my dingy teeth that they will never be able to relax without a glass of the right alcohol—despite my new furnishings, sparkling floors, and ridiculously expensive air fresheners in every wall outlet.

I absolutely hate being made to wonder if I need something I did not know existed two minutes prior to some perky actress telling me about it. Also, the smartest thing I ever did was move twenty minutes away from WalMart. Oh that it were farther!

But back to Leo. After Lena leaves the machine it catches fire and is destroyed. When a neighbor offers comfort, Leo says: “You want to see the real Happiness Machine? The one they patented a couple thousand years ago? It still runs, not good all the time, no! But it runs. It’s been here all along.” He leads the way up the front-porch steps. “Here,” he whispers, “the front window. Quiet, and you’ll see it.”

There in small warm pools of lamplight they see what Leo sees. Saul and Marshall are playing chess at the coffee table. In the dining room Naomi is cutting paper-doll dresses. Ruth paints with watercolors while Joseph runs his electric train. Through the kitchen door they see Lena slide a pot roast from the steaming oven.

“Sure,” Leo murmurs. “There it is. The Happiness Machine.” A moment later he is gone. He soon reappears inside, “tinkering, making a minor adjust here, eliminating friction there, busy among all those warm, wonderful, infinitely delicate, forever mysterious, and ever-moving parts.”

This is one model happiness of which the prophets speak--the kind that lasts forever, no matter what saddening circumstances arrive in life. Most Americans used to know that. Years of having mostly too much has made mostly too many of us less happy. In 1919 Annie Johnson Flint wrote a verse that has remained in my grandmother’s Bible ever since:

God hath not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through.
God hath not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.
God hath not promised we shall not know
Toil and temptation, trouble and woe.
He hath not told us we shall not bear
Many a burden, many a care.
But God hath promised us strength for the day,
Rest for the laborer, Light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing empathy, undying love.

That is the the real happiness for which men search, and it is in the gospel of Jesus Christ. (So maybe I was wrong back there at the beginning.) I see true happiness in the glimpses I get through cyber-glass into so many of your lives. I hope you know that I am inexpressibly grateful for all the examples of courage and faith. You are all essential components of my Happiness Machine.

*characters/story excerpted from Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Initial copyright 1946 by Ray Bradbury; renewed in 1975. The edition I reference/quote here was published by Avon Books, Inc. of New York in 1999. Nothing was used with permission, so don't pass it on, but do go buy a copy for yourself! Ray Bradbury is one of the greatest philosophers -- and writers -- of this generation. If I were to have a bust on my desk (like Schroeder does on his piano) it would be of Ray Bradbury.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Balancing Act

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Right before I had my baby, I got the evaluations back on my newest manuscript. Overall, they were mostly positive, and I was happy about that, but I do have some changes and rewriting to do.

This manuscript is one that is close to my heart. I have been researching it for well over a year and I love my main character and the situation he is put in. If any of you have read Dangerous Connections, this book is about Ethan Barak from that novel. Ethan is sort of my gray character, a mixture of good and bad, and he's had to decide whether the light or darkness within him is going to win. I honestly didn’t know if my readers/publisher would be interested in a novel where the main character isn’t exactly hero material and his actions have been less than stellar in the past. He’s a dark horse with a lot of issues and is thrown into an international incident that pushes him to his limits. I have to say that writing this character was a challenge and yet it was a joy as well, if that makes any sense. It’s been intriguing to see where this character and novel have gone since I started writing it.

But the evaluations I received also pointed out something that I’ve always had a problem with—my ending is too happy. So, I’ve been working on finding a happy medium, something not too depressing, yet not too happy either. It’s sort of hard for me because I’m a happy ending type of girl and in my opinion, you can get enough realism by watching the news and reading is my escape from all that. I guess I need to work a little harder at making things not quite so happy though. My job as the author seems to be to find a medium---not too happy and perfect, but not too dark, something that both my readers and I can live with---and I’m making progress.

I’m still trying to adjust to my new schedule as a mom of a newborn, but I find that my writing is calling to me, the ideas for my edits are flowing and begging to be written down. I’m going to do my best to indulge my writing passion while still balancing the rest of my life. It’s a problem every writer faces, but one that I wouldn’t trade. So far my balancing act today has consisted of reading some of my writing out loud to my baby and it put him to sleep, so then I got distracted by his sweet angelic little face, and I ended up putting the writing down to just gaze at him, probably with a goofy adoring look on my face.

I guess I’ll try the writing thing again tomorrow.

The Un-Do List

by Stephanie Black

It was a whackadoodle sort of morning. Maybe that’s the karma that comes from tampering with the Forces That Dwell Below, but come on, it’s us or the termites, and I don’t see them coughing up any cash for the mortgage. So we had two termite-control guys here drilling holes in concrete and going underneath the house via a big hole in the subflooring (no, the termites didn’t make the hole; they aren’t that fast) and doing whatever it takes to get rid of the nasty little critters. And guess what? They’re doing it for free! For free! It won’t cost us a penny! Also, did I mention how affordable our property taxes are? And how fiscally sound California is? Ha ha! Had you going there for a minute, didn’t I?

Anyway, it’s now past eight at night and I haven’t 1-posted a blog 2-done any work at all on draft three of my work in progress or 3-done the breakfast dishes. I did clear the table—we weren’t eating our Coconut Curried Chicken Soup for dinner while reading the back of the Lucky Charms box—but the cereal bowls are still in the sink.

Other things I haven’t done:

*Put the Halloween decorations away.
*Put the rest of the laundry away.
*Finished the Halloween candy. But I’m close on that one. Very close.
*Cleaned out the garage. That has to happen before the termite guys can finish their work and our garage is . . . unspeakable. It’s enough to make you say never mind; the termites can have it. Maybe they can think of a use for those boxes of electronic debris from years past.
*Finished the books I’ve started reading. Hang on . . . let me count . . . I can think of five books that I’ve started but haven’t finished yet. No, six. And they’re all good books that I intend to finish.
*Sent my parents a letter. They entered the Missionary Training Center this week—they’re on their way to Portugal. Very cool. We can email them, but it would be fun for them to get something in their snail mail box.
*Painted. We have a lot of walls that need painting something awful.

Things that I haven’t done but don’t intend to do. Ever.

*Hike Mt. Everest
*Bungee jump
*Give up chocolate
*Run a marathon
*Write epic fantasy. My brain is tooooo small.
*Run for political office
*Put a worm on a fishhook

How about you? What’s on your current or future un-do list?

Monday, November 01, 2010

What Makes an Author?

Had a ball Saturday. Spent the afternoon at the Provo Library Teen Book Fest. Really well done event with lots of readers, authors, and tons of cool events. Sat on a fantasy panel with Brandon Sanderson and Brandon Mull. They suggested maybe I should change my name to Brandon Scott Savage. I’m totally considering it. I think my favorite part of the panel was when I mentioned (regarding B&N creating a separate section for Teen Paranormal Romance) that even Mull put romance in his Fablehaven series. His response, “Even thirteen-year-olds want to get it on,” drew audible gasps and a suggestion that we put a mute on his mike. Very funny stuff. Scott Westerfeld gave a great presentation. I think the Provo library is posting a video in case you missed it.

That evening, Jen and I got to make up our youngest two sons as The Grim Reaper and a zombie for Halloween. (I know Halloween was actually on Sunday, but here in Utah, most of the kids go out Saturday night when the holiday falls on Sunday) I think the coolest part was using latex to create bloody peeling sores on Jake’s face. Man why didn’t I know about latex when I was a kid? So yeah, good times. I also discovered the band I plan on posting about this Friday, for retro Friday on my jscottsavage blog, is reuniting for their first new album in twenty three years. I won’t say who the band is, but the announcement was made less than two weeks ago, and I can’t wait to hear the new album.

Staying mum on Demon Spawn except to say that it should be out to publishers by the time you read this. More news soon on Farworld, The Fourth Nephite, and Dark Memories.

I had several ideas for today’s blog. But a question I was asked Saturday made up my mind. The question sounds pretty straightforward. What does it take to be an author? I guess the answer could depend to some extent to how you define an author. Do you have to publish something? Do you have to complete a book, story, article? Is it what you believe or what others believe about you?

I’d love to get your opinions, but to me being an author is all about belief.

Writing is good, but alone it doesn’t make you an author. Anyone with a pencil and a piece of paper can string words together. Getting published is a wonderful feeling. But there are plenty of people whose words have shown up in publications, who are not—in my opinion—anywhere close to being authors. And I know some incredible authors who haven’t published a single word.

I also don’t believe it matters what anyone else thinks about you. I published my first three books with a Utah publisher probably no one outside of Utah, Idaho, and maybe a few other western states had ever heard of. I often write when I am on planes. Occasionally people would see what I was doing and ask, “Are you an author?” I hated answering yes, because the next question was ALWAYS, “Have I heard of any of your books?” The truthful answer was something like, “Not unless you’ve ever heard of Deseret or Seagull book stores.”

When I answered no, they probably hadn’t heard of my books, they always gave me this kind of pitying look. So I started saying, “Oh yeah. I’m sure you’ve heard of Cutting Edge and House of Secrets.” Of course they would nod. “Yes, that does sound familiar.” It was win/win. I felt good about myself and they could tell all their friends they sat on the plane next to a famous author.

The thing is, it didn’t matter whether they thought I was an author or not. It didn’t change my accomplishments, my talent, my desire, or my belief in myself. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered there are people I never might have imagined who had actually heard of and read my books, and people who hadn’t heard of authors I knew were New York Times bestsellers.

I didn’t become an author when I got an agent. I didn’t become an author when Shadow Mountain agreed to publish Farworld. It didn’t make me an author when I had a book sell over 20,000 copies, and I won’t be any more of an author if I sell a million copies.

What made me an author was the day I decided I was going to take my writing seriously. When I decided I was going to study other authors and see how they did what they did. When I committed to improving my craft to the very best of my ability, learning every marketing tip and trick I could, and working as hard as I could to accomplish my goals.

I know it sounds like a cliché, but being an author comes down almost completely to state of mind. Writing can be a great hobby. It can be a way to relieve stress. There’s nothing wrong with starting a story and not finishing it; any more than there’s anything wrong with not finishing a drawing or guitar lessons or making a batch of chocolate chip cookies. (Okay, that may be going a bit too far. There is something morally wrong about not finishing chocolate chip cookies. Unless, you let me eat the cookie dough, in which case I’m down with that.)

There’s nothing wrong with dabbling in any of the arts.

But if you want to cross the line to being an author, the first step is inside your head. I’ve met lots of people who after receiving constructive criticism on their books, decided that editing was too much work, and found someone who would publish what they had written. Maybe they consider themselves authors. They wrote a complete book. And if you are willing to spend the money, you can get a copy. But to me a real author is the person who wants to make their book the very best it can be. The day you decide that writing is a craft that requires study, practice, and lots and lots of works—and then start putting in the time and effort that requires—you can rightfully begin calling yourself an author in my book.