Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Guest Interview: JK Rowling

Interviewer: Robison Wells

As you know, I work tirelessly to bring you the very best blog possible every single week. I'm servant to your every bidding, and tirelessly strive to please. And, since all you guys have been talking about lately is Harry Potter, I pulled a few strings and managed to secure an interview with none other than J.K. Rowling.

To better set the scene, picture this interview taking place in the lavish confines of Marriott West India Quay hotel, less than one hundred meters from London's Canary Wharf. She's sitting in a high-back leather chair and dining on monkfish ceviche, while I'm sampling the hearts of palm. You can smell the coriander, I'm sure.

Rob Wells: So, Harry Potter, huh?

JK Rowling: Yep.

RW: That's gotta be pretty awesome.

JKR: Well, you know how it is.

RW: Don't I ever! So, tell me: the final book is out and it's selling like crack cocaine in the broom closet of a rehab clinic. What's your secret?

JKR: Seriously, Rob--you don't mind that I call you Rob?

RW: Not at all.

Seriously, Rob, I get a little tired of those questions. I mean, I have a life outside of Harry Potter, you know.

RW: I see. So, what else have you been up to?

JKR: I do a lot of water skiing. And I'm learning macrame. It's not all knot-tying, you know. There's an art to it. I also like to spend time with the family.

RW: Fantastic. Now, enough of that crap. Let's talk about Harry Potter.

JKR: Fine. [JK Rowling finishes her ceviche and moves on to a selection of sashimi.

RW: You sure like your uncooked fish, JK Rowling. So, a lot of people--Christian fundamentalists, for example--have said that your books are leading our children down to hell. What say you?

JKR: It's true. Years ago I sat down with Mick Jagger--he lives here in England, too, so we run into each other, like, all the time--and we conspired to corrupt the youth. He does it with loud music and an unnaturally large mouth, and I do it with wizards and off-putting swear words.

RW: That brings up an interesting question, JK. Everyone seems to be talking about how your books are getting darker. How do you justify that in a kids book?

JKR: Really? Who's been saying that?

RW: Like, everybody? I thought that was just a given.

JKR: Have you even read the first book? There was the Dark Lord on the back of some guy's head, for crying out loud. On the back of his head! That's some dang freaky crap, right there.

RW: But, in book four don't they have some weird ritual and actually use some of Harry Potter's blood in an evil ceremony? That seems awfully dark.

JKR: Oh, baloney. They didn't really use his blood. That was all symbolic.

RW: Symbolic of what?

JKR: I don't know, the alienation of man against nature, or whatever. Can we move on to the next question?

RW: Surely. I heard recently that you're richer than the queen.

JKR: True.

RW: How has that affected you? Is it harder to write about the Weasleys now that you could buy and sell their butts?

JKR: I don't feel like it's changed me. My assistants still dress me in my Oscar de la Renta tweed trousers one leg at a time--the same as everyone else. [JKR uses a one hundred pound note as a napkin, then lights it on fire.]

RW: So, do you have any great spoilers for us about Book Seven?

JKR: You know, it came out ten days ago.

RW: [Laughing] Oh, I never have time to read. You know how it is.

JKR: I suppose...

RW: What about after the book? This will be your last Harry Potter, right?

JKR: Yes.

RW: So what happens when they all grow up?

JKR: You really want to know?

RW: I really want to know.

JKR: Harry joins the Royal Marines, and cleans up the Iraq situation with a few well-placed Avada Kedavras.

RW: Seriously?

JKR: He teams up with Superman.

RW: Wait a minute...

JKR: Are we done yet?

RW: Apparently so.

So, thanks again to JK Rowling! We here at Six LDS Writers want to offer her best wishes with her little book thing. Her stick-to-it-iveness and struggle is an inspiration to us all. See you next week!

Monday, July 30, 2007

No Such Thing as the "Competition"

by Jeffrey S Savage

For nearly twenty years now, I’ve worked in high-tech sales. I’ve detoured occasionally through marketing and have taken brief side trips into other fields, but pretty much since I got married, my paycheck has been tied to how much money I generate. In some ways, being in sales is great. I’ve taken my wife on wonderful trips to many places, brought home bonuses of all types, some pretty sizeable commissions, and managed to support my family without having a college degree. I know exactly how to close a deal and how to make sure my employees do the same. I’ve never failed to increase my employer’s sales numbers and have been compensated for my efforts.

That’s the good news about being in sales. The not so good news is that sales is a very high stress job. If you don’t close the deal you don’t get paid. Your job performance is available for everyone in the company to see all the time, and job security is only as strong as your last month’s numbers.

What that has done is to change me from a fairly laid back person who was not the most organized in the world, to a serious type A. I research my competition ruthlessly. I learn everything about their products and teach my salespeople how to exploit the weaknesses I discover. While I am honest at all times in my dealings, nothing makes me happier than to take a sale away from the companies who compete against me.

Some of the things I’ve learned over the years have been very beneficial in my writing career. As soon as I set the goal of one day becoming a full-time writer, I researched everything I could. I learned the market, and tried to duplicate what I found. I’m not the most talented writer in the world, but I studied hard and worked at improving my skills. I’ve also worked hard at marketing my books.

The one thing I didn’t bring with me to the writing world though was the desire to take down my competition. In fact if I’ve learned one thing about the publishing market over the years, it’s that you really don’t have true competitors. Don’t get me wrong, I check all the metrics I can find, and nothing would please me more than to be the top selling fantasy author Shadow Mountain has. (Selling exactly one book more than my good friend James Dashner.)

The difference between my current day job and my writing job is that when another author sells a book, it isn’t taking food from my family. In fact, if another author succeeds in selling more books, it can have a very positive effect on me, and visa versa. Take Stephanie Myer of Twilight fame, for example. She has sold a lot of books. People who may not have read a lot of fiction (and certainly not speculative fiction,) have come up to me and commented about how much they love her books, and wanting to know what other books I can recommend.

Look how many readers have been introduced or reintroduced to fantasy because of Harry Potter. It isn’t like all the other fantasy authors suddenly stopped selling books when HP came out. Quite the contrary. When readers finished an HP book, they went looking for other books to continue to feed their hunger. The same is true in the LDS market. People who never picked up an LDS novel, may try a Julie Bellon book and discover that LDS fiction really is good. What will they do next? Hopefully go try another LDS author’s books. I’m totally cheering on Brandon Mull and Obert Skye, because if they succeed my publisher will have an easier time helping me succeed.

Not only that, but who do you think are the top recommenders of good fiction? In my neighborhood, people come up to me all the time and ask what books are good because they know I’m a writer. I’ve got a library of LDS and national novels that I share out all the time, giving people a taste of this mystery author or that romance novelist. One of the best proponents you can have for your books is another author.

Once you realize that we are all in this together, your next question should be, what can I do to help the other man or woman? It’s not just enough to avoid slamming your “competition.” If you really want to succeed in the long run, you should be looking for ways to help everyone else succeed. If for no other reason than, what goes around comes around. Here are a few ideas.

1) Buy other authors’ books. Read them, recommend them, and share them. If you are not reading what others in your space write—if you are not supporting the very industry that pays you—you have no business writing. Sound harsh? Maybe. But the truth of the matter is that good writers read a lot. And if they want improve they should know what other writers in their space are doing. I was so dang impressed to hear that Stephen King himself was going to be waiting in line at midnight to buy HP 7. He is the man.

This is especially important at book signings. Always, always, always, buy another author’s book if you are doing a joint signing with them. I don’t care how tight on money you are, do it. You will make a friend; you will look classy in the eyes of the store employees; and you will support the cause. Yes you could probably get the book cheaper if the author is with your own publisher, but that’s not the point. It’s like encouraging the other runners when you are out training together.

2) Speaking of book signings, only rude, arrogant, or unknowing authors recommend just their own books at signings. If you are sitting beside another author, take the time to learn about their books and recommend them to people browsing. If you are signing alone, ask the shoppers what kind of books they like, and know enough about the stock (see item 1) to recommend other authors. Of course your main job is to sell your own books. But if you lead a customer over to Michele Holmes new novel because they love a good sweet romance, the customer will almost always ask you to tell them about your book. And believe me, those recommendations from other authors will come back in spades.

3) Spend time noticing other people’s accomplishments and giving other authors a pat on the back. I guess probably all of us spend a lot of time checking for our own reviews, sales stats, etc. But it means a ton when you drop an e-mail to another author congratulating them on making the DB top ten, or telling them what a ward member said about their latest book. We all need that kind of encouragement.

4) Use your connections to help other authors succeed. When I was in the process of getting my first novel accepted by Covenant, I sent an e-mail to Chris Heimerdinger, asking him for advice. He was the top man at Covenant and I was a nobody. It would have been easy for him to blow me off. But he didn’t. He went out of his way to give me good advice. I noticed in the back of Brandon Mull’s new Fablehaven book that he thanked Orson Scott Card for giving him advice on the business of writing.

Let me tell you right now, that it also makes a world of difference if you—as an established author—hand carry another author’s manuscript into your publisher and recommend it. I know not everyone is in a position to do that, and not all manuscripts merit it. But if you are in a position to do so, help them get out of the slush pile. That will help them, your publisher will appreciate you, and you’ll garner good karma. If you have an agent, recommend them too.

5) Give blurbs freely. Okay, I know I’m going to tread on touchy ground here. But I’ve been known to create controversy in the past. (See LDS Pub a couple of days ago.) So why stop now? I like to give a blurb to anyone who asks. Even if their work might not be the genre I write in or something I would not normally pick up to read myself. We all have to ask other authors to give us blurbs. I’m actually hoping that with my Farworld series I can get some pretty high profile authors to say something nice. Even if you absolutely hate a book, there is always something good you can say. It may help that author’s sales, and I highly doubt that you’ll suddenly lose all credibility if you blurb something that isn’t as great as you think it could be. (Fortunately I’ve never had that problem. Everything I’ve blurbed HAS been great.)

6) Share the knowledge and expertise you pick up through your own trial and error. There will always be somebody ahead of you on the road to success and there will always be somebody behind. Lend them a hand, by telling them what you’ve learned.

And equally important, don’t be offended if they chose not to take your advice. What worked for you may not work for them, and no matter how tried and true you may believe a rule to be, there are going to be other people who see exactly the opposite. That’s all good. The point is offer advice freely in forums, in classes, on blogs, or in person. I’ve learned a ton by listening to other, more experienced, authors. LDSpublisher is a great example, as was Miss Snark. They didn’t gain anything for their efforts, since they offer advice anonymously. But they help tons of other writers and make the publishing world a little better.

7) Promote literacy. As I may have said on this blog before, I hate the word literacy. It makes reading sound like work. It’s like calling basketball exercise, or calling RISK strategy and logic training. Reading should be fun. But for some reason lots of people don’t read. I keep a shelf-full of can’t miss books which I recommend to people who for whatever reason never try fiction. The Outsiders, Ender’s Game, Where the Red Fern Grows, A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, Redwall, To Kill A Mockingbird. I know I can find something that will open their minds to how cool books can be.

I go to library events, often donating part of my sales back to the library. I am also involved in the Storymakers literacy program, where LDS authors go to ward enrichment nights and give five minute presentations on the importance of literacy. These do not promote our own books, but rather stress the importance of reading as a family, the value of scriptures, the prophets’ words of the importance of having a home library. In September, James Dashner and I will be speaking to a young mens’ group. And in particular to one boy who is not really into sports or scouts, but who loves to write fantasy, and would like to be an author when he grows up. Julie Wright just got back from speaking to a three stake youth conference.

Again these programs are not to sell YOUR books. They are not church sponsored infomercials. They are about helping other people, and giving back a little. If you want to get involved in a program like this in your own area, let me know. You can come to one of our upcoming nights, or we can send you a copy of what our program is like.

8) Point would-be authors in the right direction. Whether it’s your local writing league, a good class, a conference, or a critique group, it is important for beginning authors to meet other people in their same position. Many times, a writer feels like she is the only one out there who stays awake at night with scenes running through her head, or who listens to dialog in the shower, or talks to his characters over breakfast. Help them network with others so they can realize they are not the only odd ones.

Finally, don’t forget what it was like when you started out. Once you’ve been in the business for awhile, you realize that writers are not these demigods sitting on gold thrones listening to their muse play the harp all day. But remember how amazing it was before you had your first book accepted to talk to a “real writer.” Even a little encouragement from someone who had his name on the cover of a book went a long way. It won’t kill you to take a few minutes on the phone or in person to provide some direction and encouragement. You don’t have to volunteer to read her whole manuscript. But just a few tips, some advice on how you made it, and a “Go get ‘em” Can really help.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Accepting On Behalf of the Frog Bog Bloggers . . .

The Frog humbly, modestly, excitedly, and gratefully accepts this award from LDSPublisher on behalf of himself and his six writer associates . . . all of whom really should have been fast enough on their feet to snatch it up themselves before now! The paragraph that accompanies this prestigious, coveted cyber-award reads:
The Thoughtful Blogger Award is for those who answer blog comments, emails, and make their visitors feel at home on their b(l)ogs. For the people who take others' feelings into consideration before speaking out and who are kind and courteous. Also for all of those bloggers who spend so much of their time helping other bloggers design, improve, and fix their sites. This award is for those generous bloggers who think of others.
Honestly, there's no award we'd rather win, LDSP! If only The Frog knew who you were he'd hop right over to your pad and plant a big, wet, sloppy smackeroo right on your ruby red lips. (You'd probably get wart-mouth, but who knows what he'd turn into, kissing the princess of LDS publishing and all?) Failing the PDA, please accept this big, wet, sloppy THANK YOU from us all!
Now here's the rub: there was a string attched. We're supposed to pass the award along to another deserving site. So, what do you all think? Who's your favorite blogger -- besides Frog, et all, of course?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Speaking of Hair

by Sariah S. Wilson

I have ideas on things I want to blog about, but right now, they'd all take way too much time to sit down and produce. I have VERY limited time at the computer because I have a little one who likes to be held. All the time. It makes me worried for the next book, and I'm considering writing it by hand (since I only need one hand for that) or dictating it orally. I think dictating it would feel very strange.

But before I had to look too far for a topic, I noticed Julie's post about getting her hair cut, and it led me to a mind tangent on when I destroyed my hair.

First thing you need to know - my hair grows in silver gray. It's actually a very pretty color, but I don't feel the need at 32 to be all gray yet. I have my father to thank for this - he was all gray by his early 20s. It started out with me having silver strands in my hair - which actually looked pretty because in contrast my hair is a very dark brown/almost black. My friends in high school thought it was so neat and everyone liked to look through my hair to find strands (since back then I had so few of them). I'm sure we resembled primates looking for bugs.

But in college, it started to grow in gray, which was most distressing. It didn't come in gray in the front, which meant that I could pull my hair back and no one could tell.

In the last few years it now comes in silver at all the roots. And since I have hair that grows so quickly, I'm semi-gray a lot of the time.

This has necessitated me coloring my hair since I was 14. I refused to go silently in the night and raged against the light, as it were. Since we were not well off, this consisted of me doing home coloring with Clairol. The first time I did it, I didn't put on the conditioner that you're supposed to put on afterwards. This made it smell awful for days. I usually made a massive mess as well, and the color always looked slightly fake.

Then I discovered the joys of a salon. I could pay someone else to do it and it would look nice and I wouldn't get dye all over my T-shirt or the bathroom wall. I experimented with some different shades, but eventually decided I liked my natural color best.

I got addicted to salons, and started going regularly in college. My hairstylist became such a close friend that she came to my house to do my hair for my wedding invitation pictures.

And as is so often the case with women, since my hair is stick straight and heavy, of course I wanted to wear it curly (while women with curly hair buy hair straighteners to get my look). My hair was so straight, as a child my mom would put me in those pink sponge curlers which I would sleep in all night and a half hour after she took them out in the morning the back of my hair would be completely straight. It didn't help that I always kept my hair long, which only made it heavier.

In the summer before my sophomore year, I decided to get a perm. I was working two jobs at the time and felt justified in spending the money to do it. Now apparently they have nice perms, but back in the day they were still a little poodle like. I figured with my heavy hair, that it would balance the tight curls out and I'd get a nice soft look.

By the time I got home from the salon, my hair was straight. No lie. You couldn't tell that I had gotten a perm at all.

So I called the salon and told them what had happened. They said I should come back the next night and they would fix it.

They gave me another perm. The only problem? They didn't wash out the chemicals in my hair from my first perm.

My hair was totally fried. It looked like I had stuck my finger in a socket - it stood up in all directions. I can't even tell you how bad it looked. But on the plus side, I could easily curl it because the crappy fried hair held a curl really well. It was the only way I could disguise how horrible it looked.

The next summer I had had enough of the deadness on my scalp. I went to get my hair cut and colored (at a salon in a different state since my family had moved) and I had them cut all of the gross hair off. My hair was so short - it was such a shock to me because all my life I had worn my hair long.

But then I realized that I liked it. I liked it a lot. It was so much easier to manage and style. I've worn it shoulder length or less ever since.

And thankfully I learned my lesson - I will never, ever get my hair permed again.

Anyone else have a hair horror story?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Family Matters

by Kerry Blair

As probably nobody noticed, earlier this summer I ran guest blogs for several Fridays in a row. During much of that time I was sitting in hospital waiting rooms while my daughter was poked, prodded, scanned and eventually operated upon. To protect her privacy, Stephanie, who kindly agreed to make excuses for me here there and everywhere, always explained that I was busy with "family matters." I don't know what it is with my family that our "matters" always seem to pop on on Fridays, but it's happened again. (And this time I even forgot to bring along a guest blog!)

This morning I am sitting at my sister-in-law's computer in Mesa. She and my brother are at the hospital with my niece while she undergoes surgery. Meanwhile, I have the happy assignment of playing with my other niece and nephew in their absence.

This is Megan. She is snuggled on my lap, smelling of strawberries and bubble bath and sleepiness. You are...well, I don't know where you are, but really, are you half that cute? Just look at that face. Now tell me, if you had the choice of playing Chutes and Ladders with Megan or writing a blog, which would you choose? That's what I thought! (I've called the red marker!)

Have a wonderful weekend, everybody! Enjoy your families. After all, what else really matters?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Public Service Announcement RE: Harry Potter

Just so everyone knows, since there's been a little confusion: we on this blog promise not spoil anything in Harry Potter Book 7 unless we write something like SPOILER ALERT or SPOILERS AHOY or THAR BE SPOILERS HERE. You can rest assured that anything appearing to be spoilers, in the blogs or in the comments, that does not have a spoiler warning is a JOKE. For example, if I casually mention that Hagrid joins Al-Qaeda, and I don't write "ACHTUNG! SPOILERS!", then you be certain that is NOT TRUE. (Or is it?) (No.)

ALSO: Please return the favor. Don't spoil anything without advance warning.

THANKS! ooxxooXoXXx

Hair Today Gone Tomorrow

by Julie Coulter Bellon

There comes a point in most women’s lives when they feel the need for a haircut. A new style, something different. That was where I was at last Saturday.

I walked into the salon, my hair curled softly around my shoulders, hanging halfway down my back. The salon was crowded, but the stylist quickly led me back to a chair and within moments she had swooshed the cape in front of me, tied it around my neck and asked me what I wanted done. I looked at myself in the mirror and told her, I wanted it cut.

With my hair wet, she held it in front of me, her fingers pinching it just below my shoulders. "What do you think about this length?" she asked.

I imagined silky curls brushing my shoulders and said, "sounds great." The stylist got busy, putting my hair in clips at odd angles, pulling the hair back with her fingers and cutting.

We made small talk and during the course of the conversation, we talked about the books that I’d written. The lady in the chair next to me suddenly leaned over and said, "I’ve read your books! How exciting to meet you!"

I looked in the mirror at myself, the hair in clips poking up, making me look like my small children had been playing "hairdresser" on mom while I slept, and briefly debated on telling her to turn away because I was hideous, but then I smiled and simply said, "Thank you!" We talked for quite a while about the state of LDS fiction and I wanted to share a few things about our conversation with you today.

LDS fiction has improved immeasurably over the last five years. You can find an LDS book in almost every genre, and you don’t have to worry about needless scenes offering profanity, violence, or sensuality, but still have a great story that keeps you riveted. And as shameless promotion, she liked that my book, Time Will Tell, had a romance for an older woman in it. She felt like there aren’t enough of those around.

We talked at length about historical fiction. Times have changed since Gerald Lund’s, The Work and the Glory series came out and we both felt that it has been for the good and the bad. Our opinions matched in feeling that some authors seem out to teach a history lesson with their LDS fiction, instead of just trying to weave the history into a story that makes you feel like you are right there with the characters. I used Annette Lyon’s temple series (At the Journey’s End and House on the Hill) to illustrate my point of an author who expertly weaves the history in with an absorbing story. She hadn’t yet read Annette’s books, but took out paper and pen to write down the titles because they sounded so intriguing and just what she was looking for.

We also talked about the mystery/suspense genre and how it seems to be getting more and more chilling, yet still adhering to standards that wouldn’t make people feel uncomfortable. Kerry Blair is a master of this as well as Betsy Brannon Green and Jeff Savage. Interestingly enough, she hadn’t read any male authors like Jeff Savage or Robison Wells, but wrote down their names as well.

By the time my hair was done, it felt like we were old friends. We’d shared our favorite authors, our favorite books, and I felt like I’d gained a new perspective on several things. Books can do that, I believe. They bring out feelings and issues that can spark discussion, no matter where you are.

Although next time, I hope I’m not in the middle of getting my hair done, so I can look a little more like myself while we chat.

I also was reminded that hair looks longer when it’s wet, so when mine dried, it didn’t brush my shoulders like I’d planned. I guess I can be grateful my hair grows quickly. Until then, maybe I’ll just hide behind a new book.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

If Rob Can Get Away With It . . .

by Stephanie Black

Because of my intense admiration for Rob Wells, I feel unable to post a real blog this week if he has chosen not to do so. It just feels so . . . wrong.

Our Arizona vacation was a blast, and we finished reading Harry Potter 7 out loud together before we had to head home. Harry Potter is fun no matter how you read it, but we found that reading it together added to our fun, as we laughed, shrieked and gasped our way through the book. Plus it allowed for enjoyable discussion between reading sessions. We were so into the book that when the doorbell rang, we all shrieked in unison--not because it scared us, but because we were acutely dismayed at the prospect of being interrupted (apologies to the UPS man). What a great book, and I loved how J.K. Rowling ended it. It was a marvelous wrap-up to the series.

I've now decided that what I want for my birthday is my own set of Harry Potter books. Yes, we have the books, but I want my own beautiful set that my children are forbidden to touch, a set that will endure until I'm a little old lady. No torn covers, lost covers, or books dropped behind the bed. The big question is: which version do I want? The American version or the English version with the adult covers? In the U.K., they publish both an adult and a children's version of the covers.

And now, I'm off to unpack, clean up and do the girls' camp preparation I've been putting off.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Happy Pioneer Day!

It's a holiday here in Utah, and as such I don't intend to write much today--not because I'm too busy eating hot dogs and visiting pioneer-related landmarks, but because I'm working today, writing and such. My wife, being the most awesome wife on earth, told me yesterday: "I know that you're planning on writing tomorrow. And, since you hate holidays and crave the darkness of an empty house, I'm going to take the kids to my Mom's tomorrow." So, here I sit in my living room, the blinds closed and the lights off. The house is quiet and I just ate some leftover curry. What a fantastic life.

In other news, I finished Harry Potter last night. I was rushing to get through it, because I was worried that someone might accidentally spoil it before I got done. Fortunately, I was able to avoid all spoilers (except for a minor one) and enjoyed the book thoroughly. Though frankly, I was a little annoyed with the ending--it was all just a dream? Ending it at back Privet Drive was a nice bit of framing, but Harry Potter is eleven again, waking up under the stairs? Lame.

Anyway, Happy Pioneer Day. I'll blog again for real next week.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Not Copping Out. Not!

By Jeffrey S Savage (Who is not using this as a cop out while he and his fam read the HP book together. Not, I tell you. Not.)

While Kerry is deciding whether or not to cry over on the playground, (don’t cry Kerry, we’ll all come play with you) I am at the outer edge of the school property, walking along the fence with a metal trashcan. See, there is a chain-link fence out there and all the trash blows up against it. Are you the world’s youngest janitor, you ask? Nope just in trouble again. For what? Couldn’t say. Could be anything. I spent a lot of time on the wrong side of the law in grade school. Nothing exciting like hijacking the milk money. Usually it had something to do with not paying attention, not doing my assignments, forgetting my books—that kind of stuff.

The good news about being in trouble so much is that I know how it all works. I’m kind of like the guy in the prison yard who can smuggle you in a Rita Haywood poster for your cell. (What book is that from?) Except what I can actually do is tell you where to fill your trashcan the quickest—which is what the popular punishment is. So now that I’ve filled the can, I can come join the game. Except by now, everyone’s probably gone on to kickball, and I really suck at kickball—absolutely no depth perception. But that’s okay, because I almost always have a book with me, and I also know where the best places are to read.

What were you doing ten years ago?
Ten years ago, I had recently celebrated my tenth anniversary. I had just moved back to California from Chicago and was living with my wife—who was pregnant with our third child—my two kids, and a cat in a three bedroom apartment in Roseville, CA. I was working for a Utah software company and spending about three days of every week there. I was not writing anything and I would’ve given you a blank stare of you said that ten years later I would be contemplating making a living doing such a thing.

What were you doing one year ago?
When my wife and I were much younger, you used to play a game called, “If someone told you.” It wasn’t actually much of a game; no rules, dice, or scores. But we’d look at our lives and say, “If someone told you a year ago that we’d be [fill in the blank]” Then we’d both laugh and shake our heads. We’ve lived kind of a gypsy life, living in something like 19 houses in 3 states over our twenty years of marriage, and more jobs than that. However, over the last six years, life has been a little more stable—same house, only three jobs. But if a year ago, someone had told me I’d be publishing Dark Memories with Covenant or a YA Fantasy series with anyone, I’d have thought they were up in the night.

A year ago, I was working on my second Shandra book. I’d started having occasional lunches with James Dashner, who was all excited about Shadow Mountain, his new agent, and a book called Maze Runner. I was also working on a national horror novel—which has taken a back seat for a bit. We had been to Disneyland twice already that year—some things don’t change.

Five Snacks you enjoy
Since the end of April I’ve lost twenty-five pounds, and feel worlds better for it; so I really don’t eat all that many snacks these days. But my favorites are: macadamia nuts, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread with barbeque chips inside, Dove Bars (the ice-cream not the soap), dark chocolate Milky Way bars, and cold leftovers (chicken, ribs, roast beef, potatoes.) My grandmother always preferred a last bit of dinner over a formal dessert. Her phrase was, “A piece of meat for chewing gum.” I don’t use that phrase, because it sounds kind of disgusting. But I agree with the sentiment.

Five songs you know all the lyrics to
I really don’t know all the lyrics to anything. This doesn’t stop me from singing though. My wife gets really ticked off at me when I’ve the sung the same two lines of a song over and over for the last two hours without thinking about it. Her not so subtle hint is to turn on a radio really loud to drown me out. She also hates that when I do sing more than two lines, I often sing the wrong words. My response is, “Who says my words are wrong? They may not be the original words. But I think mine are better.” So maybe they didn’t write the sing correctly in the first place, and I’m just correcting them.

I also make up words to songs. Like this version of “My Favorite Things.”

Dead cats on roadsides and dog doo on shoe strings.
Fathers with shotguns and girlfriends that throw things.
Sitting on wet paint and falling off piers.
These are a few of my favorite fears.

When the kids puke.
When the Reds nuke.
When my zipper’s broke.

It’s then I remember my favorite fears.
And then I wish I could . . . croak.

Things you would do if you were a millionaire
When I was a little kid, I always used to tell my grandmothers I was going to be a millionaire and take care of them. Of course I also said I was going to be the Prophet one day. Neither of those things has happened, and both of my grandmothers are now dead. Of course, if I ever do become a millionaire, I wouldn’t put it past them to come back and advise me on how to spend my money. The grandmother on the Shepherd side was pretty frugal and the one on the Martin side liked to go out to dinner and shows, so it could get interesting. Personally, I think I’d just take it one day at a time. My idea of splurging is a really good dinner and blowing a hundred bucks at a bookstore, so I may just do that more often.

Five bad habits
The aforementioned singing or whistling almost constantly (the same song over and over, until it is stuck in everyone’s head), throwing my socks at the bedroom ceiling fan to see if I can make them flip into the hamper, forgetting things, making fun of people in church (see if you can find the guy who combed his hair with a weed whacker), lying to my kids (last night after I tucked you in I could have sworn I saw an amputated hand crawl out from under your bed.)

Five things you like to do
Honestly I could almost take Kerry’s list verbatim. I love to read, anywhere anytime. I always go to sleep reading, and I hate to be without a good book. Doing anything with my wife—especially long drives to nowhere. Being in the woods—I love the relaxation of sitting or walking by a babbling stream under the shade of pine trees. Writing. I love, love, love, having uninterrupted time to write. If I get the chance to write full time, it won’t be about the money, it will be about the writing. Making my kids laugh. Nothing lifts my spirits more than hearing my kids laughing their heads off. But why does it always seem to be about something inappropriate? It can’t be my fault.

Things you will never wear again
The smelly, dirty, felt, Indiana Jones style (pre Indy) hat with the bullet hold in it, which I found when I was about ten, and which mysteriously disappeared one day while I was at school. Mom, I know it was you. The A’s t-shirt that was more holes than cloth that my wife wouldn’t let me wear anymore. Pants called Angel Flight or polyester shirts. Necklaces.

Five favorite toys
My antique typewriters and cameras. My convertible. My laser printer. The D&D set I’ve had since high school. My Disneyland annual pass.

Where I will be in ten years
Well, my youngest will be seventeen and my oldest will be twenty-nine. I’ve been terrible at predicting where I’ll be in one year, so I am really walking in the dark with this one. I’d like to think I’ll be writing full time, spending the summer at my cabin in the woods, looking out at the lake, and reading a good book. But Disneyland would definitely be just as likely.

PS The answer was the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. You guys are either bad guessers or I’m bad at contests.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Even Frogs Love Harry!

by Kerry Blair

The Frog joins the rest of the fruggle world in reading the last installment of the hottest literary series of his (or any) generation! Unfortunately, busy amphibian that he is, he has not yet read far enough to answer the question on his t-shirt. (And he absolutely, positively doesn't want any spoilers from the rest of you! If you know the answer to this or any other question, keep it under your witch's hat!) The magic wand/pen in his hand is in case he doesn't like the way the series ends (he has a pet spider named Severus, after all) and thus has to modify his copy.

When he does finish HP&DH, he'll gather up the Fantabulously Fun Frog packs he promised everybody who donated to the Whitney Awards and hop on down to the post office to put them in the mail. (He considered delivery by dragonfly, but decided that the little buzzers, while incredibly fast, are just too flighty to trust with something this important. Frogs and owls, alas, are not the best of friends, so that was out too.) He has fantabulously fun prizes -- not to mention gobs and gobs of gratitude -- going out to Josi Kilpack, Karlene Browning, Marsha Ward, Jake Blair, Jon Spell, Sariah Wilson, Jennie Hansen, Cheri Crane and Betsy Brannon Green. If you donated and are not on this distinguished list, please ribbit now or forever hold your peace. If you didn't donate but wish fervently that you were on this list, it might not be too late. DONATE HERE & NOW while The Frog is so engrossed in reading that he doesn't notice you're a little late. Thank you!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Happy Harry Potter Day! (No Spoilers)

by Sariah S. Wilson

All day yesterday I passed my time by counting down the hours until I could go to my local Barnes & Noble. The time seemed to crawl by, and I got more and more excited. Fortunately I have kids who like to keep me busy. Finally I left my house a little after 11:00. When I got to the store, there was not a parking spot to be found. I had to park next to a field and got a pants-full of briars and other various sticky weed parts for my trouble.

And then there were so many people in the store I could hardly move. I had a reserved copy, but because I came so late I ended up as #466. I had something of a wait ahead of me.

I looked around and found that I was surprised by the number of teenagers there. I shouldn't have been, as I reminded myself that Harry Potter was intended for YA audiences. I thought about these kids, many who seemed to be about 17 or 18 years old. When they read their first Harry Potter, they were children. Now they were almost adults, about to go out on their own. They grew up with Harry Potter. This really would be an end of an era.

I thought too about how I would probably never see another phenomenon like this again, that what J.K. Rowling did was simply amazing. I thought of the millions of people lining up all over the world to get their precious copy, to take it home and read it that night.

As I drove home with the book next to me in the car at 1:00 a.m. (and one for my mother who wisely had me pick one up for her so she wouldn't have to fight the crowds) I realized that all I had to do was flip to the end and read. All these years of waiting, of wanting questions answered, desperate to know who would die and who would live, I could so easily find out.

But I didn't want to. For once, I kept myself completely spoiler free. I stayed off the Internet all together. I refused to watch the news, I wouldn't read the newspaper. The desire to find out was there, but my desire to have the experience not be ruined by knowing the outcome was stronger.

Which is why I won't be posting my opinion here for now on what I thought of the book for fear that it might accidentally spoil it for someone else. Maybe next Saturday I can do a blog about my thoughts on the book, since I have so many of them.

I stayed up until 2:40 last night reading and then realizing that my little one could be up at any time, forced myself to go to bed (falling victim to the "just one more chapter" syndrome). I woke up with her at 8:00 a.m. and finished the book at 2:00 this afternoon.

Stephen King wrote an essay last week for Entertainment Weekly talking about how he planned to be in line at midnight, but how sad he was to see Harry Potter at an end. How he thought that Rowling couldn't possibly write an ending that would please people, only because it had been so anticipated for so long. How he knew he would want to put the book down, to stretch the experience out, to savor the story.

I understood. I felt the same way. But my desire to discover won out and I raced through it. I have since gone back and reread several parts, and will probably read the entire thing over again soon.

With that I bid a fond farewell to the Harry Potter saga, and thank J.K. Rowling for writing such an imaginative and captivating series, for taking us from Lumos to Nox.

Thanks for making me a believing Muggle.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Next Time Can We Play Jacks?

By Kerry Blair

Tag is such a complicated game, psychologically speaking. On the one hand, you don’t want to be tagged because then you have to be “it” and what if you can’t catch anybody else and end up standing in the middle of the playground feeling like a loser while everybody stares at you? (And what if you cry?) On the other hand, you do want to be chased because “it” always chases the popular kids, so what if nobody chases you and you end up standing in the middle of the playground feeling like a loser while everybody stares at you? (And what if you cry?) People who think too much tend to complicate childhood all out of proportion. And they cry a lot.

This new version of tag isn’t much better. If Stephanie had tagged everybody on the blog except me I would have felt like the boring loser that I am. But since she did tag me, here I am standing in the middle of the metaphorical playground with everybody staring at me, feeling like a loser (by comparison) already. (And what if I cry?)

What were you doing ten years ago?
I was scratching my way out of a pit the depth and darkness of which could only have been imagined by me. (Or possibly Dante if he’d added a special circle of hell for women diagnosed with MS and confronted with turning forty the same year.) Languishing in my pit, I realized I had two choices: I could continue to moan and whine and groan and grieve and complain and sob about everything I couldn’t do anymore, or I could take stock of what I still could do. I eventually chose the latter, but reluctantly. Frankly, I didn’t have much going for me. I could sit. I could type. I could spell. I could even punctuate a compound sentence . . . Hey! I could write a book! (There is no logic there, people. Do not look for it. I was a desperate woman driven by desperate times to desperate lengths.) I wrote The Heart Has Its Reasons and to my utter astonishment, Covenant published it. To give Voltaire credit he didn’t get a decade ago, the complete sentence is: The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of. Nine years and nine months ago I learned that God also has His reasons that our reason knows nothing of.

What were you doing one year ago?
This time last year I was bothering and possibly even bedeviling authors to send me character descriptions so I could write one of the strangest, most befuddling murder mysteries ever inflicted on innocent dinner-goers. I wasn’t asked to do it again this year. I don’t know if it’s because I bombed badly in 2007 or because Covenant just didn’t go for my proposed 2008 theme: a reenactment of the prom scene from Carrie. What do you think? Don’t be honest. (PS - The guys on each side of the bride in the picture are Rob and Jeff. Rob is the one in the hula skirt.)

Five Snacks you enjoy
Cashews, croutons, Oreos, fingernails (see “bad habits” below) and dehydrated sheets of seaweed. (My son sent it from Korea and for some strange reason I love it!)

Five songs you know all the lyrics to
This is a bad time to ask because I recently begged to be made a Cub Scout leader. Yes, I sought after a calling. (See “bad habits” below.) The boys in my Primary class needed a new den leader and I happen to see myself as a vital, creative, fun leader of little boys. The bishopric, on the other hand, tends to see me as an aging cripple with delusions of grandeur. (Turns out the bishopric were right, but that’s beside the point.) They called me, the ward sustained me, and I’m having a great time! As a result, I’ve recently re-memorized Junior Birdman, There Ain’t No Bugs on Me, John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, and Great Big Gobs of Greasy, Grimy Gopher Guts. Now aren’t you sorry you asked?

Things you would do if you were a millionaire
Honestly? You won’t laugh? Sneer? Snort in disbelief? Promise? Okay then, I’d split it between a couple of very impressive schools in Mexico. While newer cars or a bigger house or more exotic vacations might thrill me and my family for awhile, they wouldn’t give us any more joy, nor would the money make a truly significant difference in our lives. We’re not rich by any stretch of imagination, but we are blessed with every necessity and so very, very many “niceties.” (Do you realize that 75% of the people with whom we share this turn on earth cannot even imagine the “luxury” in which the poorest of us live?) A million dollars to those two Mexican schools (one Catholic, one LDS) would feed, clothe, and educate hundreds of children and thus bless thousands of lives for generations to come! I’d hand the cash over in a nanosecond. (Well . . . I might send just a little to the Whitney Awards first.)

Five bad habits
I have fifty. Probably more. As previously mentioned, I bite my fingernails and think I know everything. I’m a world-class procrastinator. I snore sometimes, but would never, ever admit it in public. I’m crabby around the people I love most. Except for the last one, those aren’t my worst bad habits. I’d never tell you those.

Five things you like to do
I like to read. (I’d probably choose reading over any other activity currently available on the planet.) I like to watch monster movies and I’m not picky about what kind of monsters are moving. Werewolves. Mummies. Aliens. Psychos. It’s all good. (My husband might list this as one of my five worst habits and he might be right, but I do draw the line at true evil and gore and other R-rated stuff. In fact, I prefer my monsters to be played by Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price, or Lon Chaney and/or directed by Alfred Hitchcock.) I like to sit outside in thunderstorms, the closer the lightning and the darker the night the better. I like to go to thrift stores, especially Goodwills gone bad. I like to walk on the beach.

Things you will never wear again
This is a very sore point right now; you shouldn’t have brought it up. Late last week some famous fashion guru came up with a list of “Ten Things Women Must Not Wear after Forty” and splashed it all over the Internet. I have since worn at least one of those forbidden things every single day just to show him. (He doesn’t care and I probably look stupid, but I feel much better overall thank you very much.)

Five favorite toys
Dam trolls. Slinky. Old View-Master with 1960-era pictures of The Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted House rides at Disneyland. Jealous much, Jeff? (Come baaaaack! Bring your death certificate! That’s a clue for those of you still hoping to win one of Jeff’s books from Monday. At least it’s in the neighborhood of his clue, let’s say.) Kaleidoscope. Jacks.

Where I will be in ten years
Disneyland, in line for the Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean rides. (I just decided.) It would be great if I had grandchildren with me. (Hint. Hint.)

People to tag
Oh, gosh. Marnie’s taken and If I tag Betsy Green again she’ll kill me. (But she’ll be very polite and Southern charming about it, so I think I’ll do it.) Chillygator, you have a blog, don’t you? I tag you and Keith and Karlene. Send links!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

You're It and No Tagbacks or Puppy Guarding!

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Since I was busy making my big announcement last week, I couldn’t do the tagging thing, so I thought I would do that this week!

What were you doing ten years ago?

Ten years ago I had just graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Secondary Education–English teaching and my husband and I took a vacation to England and France. I got to see Stratford on Avon, the bed where Shakespeare was born, the bench he proposed to his wife on, where the Magna Charta was signed, all kinds of medieval castles, modern castles, Big Ben, The Louvre, Versailles, The Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and I ate wonderful, delicious food and practiced my French on people. It was the trip of a lifetime and I will never forget it. Especially after standing in front of the home of Princess Diana, reminiscing about meeting her when I was a young girl, and then less than three months later she was killed in a car crash.

What were you doing one year ago?

Last year I was a co-chairman for a large family reunion (the progeny of a family of sixteen, so hundreds of people) and we were busy with that as well as one of my boys getting baptized. It was a busy summer!

Five Snacks you enjoy

1. When I am writing, I get into my best groove when I have baby carrots to chew on.
2. Pudding
3. Pretzels
4. Popcorn
5. Anything coated in chocolate

Five Songs you know all the lyrics to:

This is a tough one. I know the lyrics to a lot of songs and I like a lot of different genres of music. Can we count the Les Miserables or Sound of Music soundtrack? Any song by Chicago? Primary songs? No? Okay. Here’s a sampling off the top of my head then.

1. Photograph by Def Leppard
2. Why Can’t This Be Love by Van Halen
3. Any Disney song because I’ve watched all the movies a billion times with my kids.
4. Lips of An Angel by Hinder
5. What a Fool Believes by the Doobie Brothers

Things you would do if you were a millionaire

1. I would hire someone to do all the cooking and the dishes afterward.
2. I would travel around the world with my family (including an African safari) and take my mom to Australia since that has been her lifelong dream.
3. I would buy a house that had a huge library in it, with a fireplace and a ladder to reach the books on the upper shelves.
4. I would buy a large chocolate fountain.
5. And of course, I would make a trust for each of my children, save for our retirement and make sure our parents were taken care of.

Five bad habits

1. I don’t fold the laundry right when it comes out of the dryer.
2. I don’t wear my glasses like I should.
3. I stay up very very late.
4. I’m a worrier
5. Whenever my husband goes out of town I watch the movie, Beaches, and cry my eyes out.

Five things you like to do

(In addition to writing, right?)
1. Laugh and joke with my kids.
2. Watch reruns of Whose Line is it Anyway?
3. Write silly limericks with my close friends
4. Travel to new places
5. Research Family History while listening to my iPod.

Things you will never wear again

Hopefully anything that has maternity on the tag.
Anything I wore in high school.
Hammer Pants (Can’t Touch This—break it down)
Anything plaid

Five favorite toys

1. iPod
2. My Scrabble set
3. My computer
4. My bagpipes
5. My jetted tub

Where will I be in ten years

In ten years I’ll hopefully still be writing books and maybe I’ll be going back to school for a law degree. Or just arguing with Rob on this blog.

People to tag

Marnie Pehrson
Meredith Dias

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hot Enough For Ya?

by Stephanie Black

It occurred to me on Tuesday night that heck, tomorrow is Wednesday and I’m supposed to blog. I wish I’d been organized enough/bright enough to line up a guest blogger for this week, since I’m in Arizona visiting my sister and I’d rather party than blog. The party is growing—Grandma arrived on Tuesday, and another sister and her family arrive today. And boy, do we know how to party. Yesterday’s festivities consisted of:

A trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond to buy sheets, etc.
A trip to Wal-Mart to buy swim goggles, etc.
Amish friendship bread, a lack of instant vanilla pudding, and resultant crabbiness.
A jigsaw puzzle
Get Smart
Girls’ camp prep and the wages of procrastination.
Swimming and more swimming.

It’s fun being in Arizona again, even if the weather is hot enough to melt my shoes. We used to live here, and I’d forgotten how beautiful the desert landscape can be. As for the heat, you just stay inside. Summer is the bad season; winter is the good season, and the payoff for enduring summer comes in February when you’re outside enjoying the gorgeous weather while most of the nation is up to its collective armpits in snow. Granted, it seems a little strange that I’d come here on vacation in July, but my family and I basically just want to sit around in my sister’s air conditioned house or in the pool and cackle like fiends at each other’s jokes, so who cares if it’s 142 degrees outside?

The trip down here was a new experience for me. This is the longest car trip I’ve ever taken without my husband (we decided it would be better if he didn’t use up precious vacation days coming to a climate where you can bake bread in your glove box). He very kindly loaned us his Palm Pilot for the trip so we could use the GPS navigation program. This was a great blessing to me, because I’m the kind of driver who can get lost in a parking lot. You can’t completely cancel your brains when using the GPS—occasionally it does make mistakes, like when it tried to kill my husband by telling him to drive off an elevated freeway—but most of the time, it works wonderfully. We made it the 700 miles to Arizona without any complications worse than a missed exit and occasional eruptions of bickering from the kids. I’m just hoping we didn’t lose any crayons under the seats, or they’ve melted into oblivion by now. In fact, the entire interior of my car has probably melted. I actually did melt a small boom box once on a summer trip to southern Utah. I left it sitting on the dashboard of the car and the next day it looked like something from a Salvador Dali painting.

Today I get to attend my sister’s ward book club, which will be extra fun because they read and enjoyed The Believer a while back and hey, what writer doesn’t delight in having people tell her how much they enjoyed her book? Then the biggest partying will take place on Friday night, beginning with a Harry Potter dinner and games, after which the lunatics among us will head over to the bookstore to party until the stroke of midnight when we can get our grabby little hands on book 7. Our plan is to read it out loud together. No fair sneaking the book and reading ahead. We did this once before with book 5, and we actually stuck to our game plan. No one cheated and hid in the closet to grab a few extra chapters. Can we manage such self-control again? Sure. It’ll be more fun to take it slowly, anyway. Since this is the last Harry book, we’ve got to savor it.

Photo credit: Thanks to my sister, Mean Aunt, for these pictures taken at the Desert Botantical Garden in March.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Cop is Out!

by Robison Wells

So, I hate these tag games. But, it's an easy, cop-out blog, and who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth? Thanks Stephanie!

What were you doing ten years ago?

Ten years ago I was on my mission. I was in Pueblo Pintado, NM, which is about as remote an area as you can find in the United States. From my front door I could see three other buildings (one of which is in the photo), and from my back door I could see none. Our water smelled like oil and felt greasy. Our trailer (we lived in a double-wide) was over-run with mice, and in the middle of the night you could hear the staccato of their little feet tapping up and down the air ducts--and we were ten miles from the site of the first Hanta virus fatality. It was quite awesome.

We were in a strange section of New Mexico called the Checkerboard, where private land was shared with the Navajo Reservation in a checkerboard pattern. Most of the private land out there was owned by oil companies or mines, and the Navajo people lived in near third-world conditions. Ninety percent of the homes had no running water, and probably half had dirt floors.

I have a lot of very good friends down in New Mexico, and we try to return there every August for our annual bushel of green chile. (I don't think we'll make it this year, though.)

What were you doing one year ago?

One year ago The Counterfeit had just been released and I was hiding from the public and papparazi. Other than that, everything was about the same.

Five snacks you enjoy:

Before I make the list, I'll begin by saying that I'm not a big fan of candy. At dinner, if I have a choice between second helpings and dessert, I'll always take the seconds. On a related note, when you're on an email group with a bunch of women, and one of them has a bad day and everyone else emails and says "Go eat some chocolate, girl!", don't you just HATE THAT? Answer: YES.

Anyway, snacks I like:

1. Fancy cheese. The grocery store near my previous home had a fantastic selection of cheeses, and when my wife and I would splurge for treats, I'd often get a small block of cheese. I'd try to get a different kind every time. My favorites are: Gouda, Edam, Havarti, Jarlsberg, Comte, Double Gloucester, Tintern, Danish Bleu, Gorgonzola, Brie, Camembert, Fontina. (Yes, this is a big list of favorites, but that's because there's room enough for everyone thanks to love.)
2. Tempura. I could eat tempura all day long. I just wish I had a deep frier at home.
3. Potatoes, cooked in any one of their many fabulous varieties.
4. Coke, or, on my more whimiscal days, Cherry Coke.
5. Oreos.

Five songs you know all the lyrics to:

I know the words to lots and lots of songs, and I'd totally kick butt on that new Don't Forget the Lyrics show. So, instead of just picking five, I shuffled the music library on my computer and have listed the first five to which I know all the words:

1. I Feel Good, by James Brown
2. Busted, by Matchbox 20
3. Queen of the Hop, by Bobby Darin
4. Hello City, by Barenaked Ladies
5. Revolution, by the Beatles

Things you would do if you were a millionaire:

1. Live somewhere else. I'm crazy with wanderlust--I've always wanted to travel all over the world. But I've never wanted to do the tourist type thing. I'm interested more in culture than in sights, so I've always wanted to just move somewhere, live there for a year or so, and then move somewhere else. I want to see what places are like for the people who live there, rather than just see the castles and museums and scenic byways. (But I want to see that stuff, too.)
2. I'd pay off my parent's house, and buy a condo for my mother-in-law.
3. After traveling, my wife and I want to settle down in Anacortes, WA, and have a big yard with an English garden.
4. I'd eat fancy cheese all the time.
5. I'd do absolutely nothing for weeks at a time. And then make a big donation to the Whitney Awards. (And, you know, poor kids.)

Five bad habits:

1. Nose picking.
2. Chronic lying.
3. Kleptomania.
4. Pyromania.
5. Watching American Idol.

Five things you like to do:

1. Go out to nummy restaurants.
2. Relax.
3. Play games. (Dang it, FHL, we still need to get together.)
4. Receive compliments.
5. Hang out with the little woman.

Things you will never wear again:

This is a dumb category, because: who cares?

1. My blessing outfit.
2. Those rad Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles velcro shoes I had in elementary school.
3. My suit pants that ripped from stem to stern during church.
4. My shirts that shrunk in the wash. (No, it wasn't my belly getting bigger.)
5. The dress I wore for Halloween in the fourth grade. It made me look too hippy.

Five favorite toys:

1. My laptop.
2. My Mont Blanc pen.
3. Three hundred little painted soldiers.
4. My ergonomic trackball mouse. It glows red, like the pain in my hand.
5. My fridge.

Where will I be in ten years?

Probably living in an apartment, going back to grad school for the seventeenth time.

People to Tag:

Winston Churchill
Hank Williams
Wolf Blitzer
Jackie Chan
Jack Weyland

Monday, July 16, 2007

Be a Purple Cow

by Jeffrey S Savage

Last week, I blogged about writing and getting published. The lovely and talented Worldbuilder Robin suggested I write about HOW to get published. First of all let me say that getting a contract can apparently be a very bad thing—leading to weight gain, financial ruin, depression, walking around with only one shoe on, loneliness, and selling Chapstick on the street. At least according to this New York Observer story.

However, if you are willing to risk the inherent dangers of such a venture, (and if you can remember to put on both shoes) I will share with you what I feel is the single greatest tool in getting published, or achieving any other success. But should you choose to read farther, "No fear have ye of evil curses says you. Properly warned ye be, says I.” (The first person to identify this quote in the comments, without using the Internet wins the choice of any signed book of mine.)

In my office at work—standing under a little palm tree type plant which I have managed not to kill—is a purple cow approximately four inches high. I might have purchased the cow just for the heck of it. I mean how many people have a purple cow in their office? But that’s actually the point.

Several years ago, I was at a conference of some sort where the keynote speaker was business author, Seth Godin. At the conference, Seth talked about his book Purple Cow. My remembrance of the story is that as Seth and his family were driving in the country, they came across a field of cows. Excited to see the cows, his kids asked to get out of the car and look at them.

After driving past fields and fields of cows, the novelty wore off and the kids’ attention turned to other things. Noticing how quickly the cows became ordinary, Godin wondered what it would take to reignite the children’s interest. He decided that if one of the cows were purple instead of the usual array of blacks, whites, and browns, it would stand out among all the other cows.

At first that might seem like a big deal. I mean, have you ever seen a purple cow? But when you think about it, it’s not such a big change. Just a different color. But that little change would be enough to make one cow stand out among all the others. I believe that is also the case in publishing, as well as in much of life. It isn’t necessary to be worlds different to succeed. It’s just the little things that really count.

A couple of examples:

When my two teenagers went out to get their first jobs, I told them to make up a resume. Typical teen responses were, “You don’t need a resume, Dad. They have an application to fill out.” And. “How can I make a resume? I don’t have any experience. That’s why I’m trying to get a job.” My response was to ask them how many other teens were applying for the same jobs. And how many of those teens would fill out just the applications. Long story short, they added resumes and got more job offers than any of their friends.

I have a new salesperson I recently hired. Along with doing everything I've asked of him, he located lists of potential customers and makes sure to cold call them several hours a day. When my next senior position opens up, who do you think will have first choice?

By contrast, the Spanish Fork theater is just down the street. They are the closest movie theater to me. And yet, I drive another fifteen minutes to go to the Payson theater. Why? Because the people are more polite there, and the theater is cleaner.

So how does that apply to writing? Everyone is trying to be different. In fact being different is almost like being the same in some cases. Writing your book on purple paper is different, but not in a good way. Sending balloons to an editor is not only not different, it is also not good. But the little things—the things that may not seem like much—are what separate success from failure.

Take research. How many of you are writing an LDS novel right now? How many of you have actually taken the time to ask LDS editors what kind of books they are looking for? It isn’t hard. One of them has a blog. But even the other ones are accessible. Have you tried just sending a brief e-mail explaining who you are, thanking them for what they do, and asking them politely what kind of books they are looking for?

It’s a little more difficult in the national market, but not impossible. Research the agents who publish your genre, then check their websites and blogs. Most of them have at least one entry where they say what their ideal book is. So write it.

When you send out your query, do you print it out on laser printer and choose the brightest paper? Do you use the correct fonts and margins? I know, it’s a little thing, but still . . .

How many of you have gone to a writer’s conference where you signed up for a fifteen minute session with an editor? How many of you spent the whole fifteen minutes talking about your book? What if you sat down with the editor—maybe even offered them a bottle of water—and said, “Tell me what kind of book would knock your socks off?” Bet you’d be the only one.

When I go to a bookstore signing, and things are a little slow, I always offer to help out. I’ve put up signs, shelved books, helped customers find books, swept. How many other authors do you think do that?

How about rejection? What do you do when an editor or agent rejects you? Curse and throw things right? What if you politely thanked the editor for their time, explained that you know they are busy, and asked if they had any advice on what could make your work more publishable? Silly right? And yet I know of more than a dozen PUBLISHED writers who have done just that and gotten positive results. In fact that’s how I got my agent.

When Dead on Arrival was coming out, I had a chance to meet with the Seagull Managers of every store. Along with many other authors, I had about fifteen minutes to promote my book. Most authors gave nice informative presentations. There were a lot of very good presentations. But how many people do you think showed up as Howie Mandell, complete with bald head and goatee to do a version of Deal or No Deal?

Thousands and thousands of people every day send out queries. Most of them don’t take the time to learn how to write a quality query. They have failed before they ever began because they were willing to put months into writing a novel, but they weren’t willing to put a couple of hours into researching what makes a good query.

Thousands of people are willing to sweat over a novel. But they're not willing to take a class or read a couple of good books on the subject. Thousands of people are going to wonder why they didn't succeed.

If you want to succeed in anything, it’s really very easy. Put in just a little more effort than the other 99%.

Playing to a Private Audience

by Sariah S. Wilson

I apologize for my tardiness in posting - this weekend we blessed our baby at church and we had a lot of out-of-town relatives come in to participate in/witness the blessing. I've only been home basically long enough to sleep and haven't had the time to post.

But I noticed something about myself this weekend, which was brought even more into focus by my mom's lesson in Relief Society (who pointed out that we tend to judge men by what they do/how successful they are and we judge women by their homes and their families even if they're successful business women) - I am way, way paranoid about people seeing the inside of my house.

Now, I know those women who say "Oh, my house is such a mess," and by that they mean that three toys have been left on the floor. When I say my house is a mess, what I'm really saying is, "Please don't call the Board of Health on me." I am an inherently lazy person and cleaning the house (to my husband's eternal chagrin) is so way down on the priority list for me.

But when I have company coming, I clean. And clean. And clean. And since I don't do it so often, it obviously takes forever. It's so bad that when I do clean any other time my kids ask, "Who's coming over?"

I blame this on my grandmother. My father's stepmother (his own mother died when he was a toddler) was, how shall I say this, not the nicest of people. She liked to come over to my mother's home at 7:00 in the morning and open drawers to check for dust. One time, while my mother was caring for three children under the age of four (and one of them handicapped) my grandmother decided that my mother's home was not up to her standards came over to clean it herself, Pine-Sol in hand, yelling at my mother the whole time.

This went on for most of my childhood. So you can imagine what holidays and such were like for our family. One giant cleaning frenzy so that Grandma wouldn't freak out. (Grandma usually found something else to complain about though, even if the house was spotless.)

I found myself at 12:15 a.m. Friday night/Saturday morning mopping my kitchen floor. My husband told me to go to bed and that we'd work on it together the next day. I couldn't do it. I couldn't stop mopping. I had to get it all cleaned. He told me to stop playing to my own private audience - that no one would care if the house wasn't perfect.

I realized he was right. I was putting on a show for an audience that didn't exist. In my eleven years of marriage, no one has ever made any comments to me about my house. Now, they might be saying them behind my back, but no one has ever directly attacked me as my grandmother had my mother.

I then tried to imagine what was the worst thing that could happen if my house wasn't perfect. Would my private audience throw vegetables at me? Or in reality, would they *GASP* think I was a terrible housekeeper?

I am a terrible housekeeper.

But even telling myself that, even reasoning with myself over the worst case scenario, I couldn't stop mopping. That panic from my youth is, I'm afraid, too well ingrained.

Since I have a small one who insists on being held, well, all the time, I didn't get to do as much on the house as I would have liked. It wasn't spotless.

And you know what? It truly didn't matter. No one pulled out the Pine-Sol to fix my mess. No one eyeballed the dust on top of the TV. Nobody commented on the state of the blinds.

It made me wonder how often we allow our own irrational fears or insecurities to rule our lives.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Want a Piece of the Frog Family Fortune?

by Kerry Blair

Some people seem to live most of their lives under a rock. Our Dear Frog, alas, is one of them. But at last he has heard about the Whitney Awards and how desperately funds are needed now to finance promotion at the upcoming Book Sellers Convention. Because he firmly believes in putting his money where his heart and long sticky tongue are, The Frog hauled his safe up from the depths of his muddy blog bog and opened it wide. After digging out his life savings -- and realizing it was only twenty bucks -- he decided to use the rest of his vast treasure to help support such a worthy cause. (Frankly, he hopes that if all the appeals to your philanthropic, generous natures have failed, then perhaps you can be bribed.)

The twenty bucks (aka life savings) will be sent to the Whitney account, of course, but the rest of the fortune is up for grabs for co-donors. Well . . . he probably won’t part with the ancient Egyptian sarcophagus or heirloom diamond brooch – things you can’t see very well in the picture anyway. (On the other hand, he just might! How much are you willing to donate?) But those Gooey Yummy Gummy Bugs? Well, heck yeah! You get that! The Frog will throw one bug into every Fantabulous Frog Fun Pack along with an Official Frog Fan Club Badge, magic writing stick (guaranteed to cure writer’s block), endlessly entertaining hopping frog (to amuse the kids/dog/cat/spouse so you’ll have more time to write), high-energy lollipop to keep you going at that computer all hours of the day and night, notepad to keep track of ideas for that next NYT bestseller, pen/bookmark/ruler thingie that no self-respecting Homo sapien should be without, Amazing Frog Action Figure (not available in stores; no, not even WalMart), and an autographed photo The Frog himself. And if you you prefer, he’ll even send you an electronic version so you can Photoshop yourself into the shot, thereby impressing all your friends and associates. But wait! It gets better! For donations that exceed his own $20, he’ll throw in an endorsement for your next book and/or tell you his real name so that you can bestow it on your next child. Finally, if you become a silver or gold sponsor, The Frog will mail himself to your house and kiss you. On the lips. (You have to send pictures.)

Don’t miss out on this amazing offer! Every donation of any amount counts! (It helps a lot, too.) And it’s not like we just give these valuable Frog Packs away, folks. (Wait! I think we do give these things away, but not very often and you usually have to work a whole lot harder than this to get them!) The Frog will mail out Fantabulous Frog Fun Packs – and himself – through July 20 after which time the offer is null and void. (He’ll be in the middle of nowhere the week after next, pulling a handcart to celebrate Pioneer Day. Little known fact: The Frog’s ancestor emigrated to Utah in the pocket of Orson F. Whitney himself.)

Another thing: The Frog apologizes for not making an appearance on the Fourth of July. (Thanks to those who wrote to ask about his well-being. You are true friends, indeedy.) It turns out he was camping with the Blacks. In fact, when the picture was taken of the wereraccoons, he was behind the little devils, sneaking up on them with a stun gun and butterfly net. Unfortunately, he didn’t show up very well in the murky picture, so his heroics went unheralded. (He’s very disappointed Stephanie failed to mention him.)

Okay, in case you missed the big capital letters – and the point of this post – this is your chance to donate to one of the most worthwhile endeavors ever undertaken in the history of LDS literature – and get a fun thank you gift for your generosity.

Tell them The Frog sent you.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I Have An Announcement

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Last week I received the news that Covenant Communications has accepted my new manuscript for publication. I’m really excited about joining their company and thought I would share that with you today. It does mark the end of an era, however, since I was the only non-Covenant author on this blog. *sniff*

I also wanted to take this opportunity to publicly thank Spring Creek Books for taking a chance on me as a new author three years ago. They have published four of my books since then and I am forever indebted to them. Chad Daybell is easily one of the most professional and frankly, just plain amazing, people in this business. He is so supportive of his authors and I am sad to leave that safety net, but happy to have his blessing.

So it is with some trepidation, but lots of optimism, that I make this move to Covenant. And, I really can’t wait for you all to read my new book that is slated for release next spring/summer.

Do you want to know what this new book is about? Want a little preview? All right, you talked me into it.

There is no guarantee they will choose my incredibly fitting title that I’ve chosen, so I won’t list that here, but here's a sneak peek at the book.

It’s about Brandon Shepherd, a doctor serving in Iraq who goes for a dust-off with his colleague, Dr. Rachel Fielding, to help two seriously wounded soldiers in the field, and they both are captured by insurgents when their helicopter is attacked. The situation gets even more difficult when the doctors realize that they are now in the middle of a terrorist plot that could bring down a nation. Their captors then ask them to do something that no patriotic American would ever do---and it pushes them both to their emotional and physical limits.

Of course a mission to find and rescue the doctors is mounted by the Americans and Brandon's sister, Kristen---who is one of the top political consultants in the U.S.---tries to help using her connections. Kristen ends up mired in the dangerous situation herself when she realizes that someone very close to her could be involved not only in the kidnapping of her brother, but in the terrorist organization itself.

It is a story of political intrigue, conspiracy, and danger, showing that freedom is worth fighting for, that trust can have a high price, and sometimes lines that have been drawn have to be crossed.

What do you think? Does it sound like something you would read? I hope so. :)

I have to say that I couldn't have done any of this without the help of Corporal Matthew Blair, who has served two tours of duty in Iraq and was an invaluable source of information for me in sharing his experiences there. In researching this book, I have gained a real appreciation for the sacrifice of all the men and women of the military and what they go through every day. So, Matt, if you’re reading this, you have my deepest admiration not only for your service, but also for your patience in answering all my questions to make this book as accurate as possible. Thank you!

And now, will you please join with me in sackcloth and ashes for the sadness of no longer being the only non-Covenant author on this blog. Then throw back the ashes, (keep the sackcloth if you didn’t bring anything else to wear) and join with me in the party of finally being included with the other Covenant authors on this blog. (Maybe we should link arms and sing Kumbaya or something? Rob? Stephanie? No? Okay, never mind.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


by Stephanie Black

Author Elodia Strain tagged me in the latest blogger get-to-know-you game making the rounds. I'm supposed to add my blog to the bottom of the list and remove the top one, so here goes:

Sundial in the Shade

Not Entirely British

Marcia Mickelson

Elodia Strain

Six LDS Writers and a Frog

And now the questions:

What were you doing ten years ago?

Living in upstate New York, raising three young children. My husband was a grad student at MIT in a business/engineering program and his program included a half-year internship at Kodak. Living in New York was a wonderful experience because we lived only a mile or so away from my husband’s parents—the only time in our entire married life that we have had grandparents close by. It was awesome.

What were you doing one year ago?

Staring a new book (restarting really--I'd started it a couple of years earlier, then set it aside with about seventy pages written), learning that sailing completely freaks me out, teaching Sunbeams.

Five snacks you enjoy:

1. Ghiradelli chocolate squares
2. Cheesecake
3. Brownie sundaes
4. Chocolate chip cookies
5. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Holy yikes, I really need to exercise. Notice how there’s not one healthy snack on this list.

Five songs you know all the lyrics to:

1. Primary songs. Lots of Primary songs. And here is a pointer: in the second verse of Book of Mormon stories, it's "given this land if we live righteously", not "if they lived righteously". "They" is in verse one, and if you repeat it in the second verse, it messes up the message of the verse. Thank you for allowing me to vent.
2-5: See above.

Things you would do if you were a millionaire:

1. Seeing as how I live in the Bay Area, being a millionaire would mean I could actually afford a house. A million bucks in my town will buy you the following: a 2200 square-foot, four bedroom, two-and-a-half bath house built thirty years ago. My husband likes to go to open houses to keep his finger on the pulse of the market, but open houses drive me crazy. I dislike walking through a not-too-big, nothing-special sort of house and knowing it’s priced like a mansion. Sure the granite countertops are nice, but for a million dollars, whoop-tee-doo. For that amount, I expect solid gold toilet seats.

2. There is no number 2. I just spent all my money on number 1.

3. Okay, let’s say I got a mortgage for part of the cost of the house instead of spending my whole million dollars up front, so I do have some money left. I want to buy some furniture for my house. And some curtains. And some paintings for the walls.

4. I want to pay a landscaper to create and maintain a beautiful yard for my house, which reminds me--last night I was at an Enrichment Meeting held in the backyard of a sister who has the most gorgeous garden filled with flowers and herbs. I have the black thumb of death when it comes to plants (because I neglect them), but as I sat there in the beauty of her yard, listening to gardening tips, I thought how it would be neat to grow a beautiful garden and for a few moments I was inspired. Then, in the course of her presentation, she remarked that she spent pretty much all day every day working on her garden. She then qualified that—well, not ALL day straight, but she spends tons of time working on that garden every summer. At that point, my dreams of a beautiful garden went to Never-Mind-Land. I’d love to have a gorgeous yard, but I’d rather write another novel or five than spend hours a day tending that gorgeous yard. Oh well.

4. Take the family to Hawaii.

5. Hey, wait a minute. I just re-read this category name and it says I’m a millionaire, which could mean more than one million bucks, right? I’m going to now assume I’m a lot richer. In addition to the Hawaii trip, we’ll go back to Ireland for a visit. We’ll go to Boston. We’ll go to Europe. We’ll go to the Bahamas. We’ll go to Disneyland. We’ll buy a croquet set and play croquet on our large, manicured green lawn.

Five bad habits:

1. Procrastinating.
2. Being disorganized.
3. Not getting the laundry folded in a timely manner.
4. Not getting library books returned on time.
5. Getting freaked out over things I shouldn’t worry about.

Five things you like to do:

1. Go on dates with my husband or even just on walks around the neighborhood.
2. Go on family outings, be they day trips to the beach or vacations.
3. Talk on the phone to my sisters and mother.
4. Write novels
5. Check e-mail.

Things you will never wear again:

1. The blue polyester shirt and yellow and red flowered pants that looked so lovely when I was eight.
2. V-necked sweater vests
3. My wedding dress
4. That pink lacy homecoming dance dress.
5. Sadly, the super-cool black symphony dress my mother made for me when I was a teenager. It was very pretty, particularly the sleeves, but I outgrew it. It’s now in the dress-up box for service as a witch costume.

Five favorite toys:

1. Mac PowerBook
2. My special cooking thermometer. This is the coolest kitchen thermometer in existence. It cost an arm and a leg, but man, it’s worth every penny.
3. Kitchen Aid mixer
4. Weber grill. We use it year-round. My husband has even used it a couple of times to cook the Thanksgiving turkey.
5. My minivan.

Where will I be in ten years?

Looking under the couch for lost library books.

People to Tag:

I’ll make it a Frog Blog clean sweep:

Julie Bellon
Kerry Blair
Sariah Wilson
Jeffrey Savage
Robison Wells


Evil HR Lady