Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Cautionary Tale

by Kerry Blair

I’ve never lost all my earthly possessions in a fire, flood, tornado, or other natural disaster, but I’ve recently come to empathize more with those who have.

A little over a week ago someone set fire to an LDS church in Mesa, Arizona. Over the course of several awful hours it burned to the ground. A total loss. Only the steeple remains, and it sits on the ground, charred but still white, still upright, still pointing toward heaven. Some official in Salt Lake City said it will cost $3 million to build a new stake center, but the building so many of us knew and loved for so long is irreplaceable. For the last week mourners have gathered on the sidewalk across the street. My best friend reports that few people left with dry eyes, not even my normally unemotional husband and less-active son.

My kids were baptized in that building. In fact, they grew up there. My oldest son left from the stake president’s office for the MTC and, essentially, life on his own. My three-year-old daughter once told my mother, “We have a little house around the corner, but we live at the church.” That was probably truer than it should have been. For sure I couldn’t count the hours we spent there at pinewood derbies, Daddy-Daughter dates, Eagle projects, Christmas Pageant and roadshow rehearsals, Homemaking Days, Enrichment Nights, New Beginnings, recycling old fabric into humanitarians projects, parties, reunions, receptions . . . funerals. It was the only church my father entered; my 2-week-old nephew was memorialized in that chapel.

I served as ward YW president (twice) and ward and stake RS president in Lehi. Possibly I spent more than my share of hours inside those peaceful walls. I grew to love that old building as much as one can brick and mortar and memories. The morning it “died” I took out the carved wooden sheep I’d used for a decade as a keychain for my church keys and held it in my hand. Then I closed my eyes and recalled many times walking down the long, cream-colored halls, running my hand along the glossy bricks as I made the rounds, turning out the lights, checking the doors, securing the windows – making sure it was safely tucked in before I finally walked the half-block home to do the same for my children. There was something wondrous about that building. Ask anyone who “lived” there with me. When we moved to Utah we met in a building of an identical year and design, but it wasn’t the same. It hadn’t seen my children grow up, grow strong, and go forth.

But this blog isn’t a eulogy for the Lehi Stake Center. (At least it wasn’t supposed to be when I started it!) That heartrending fire was only the first of the great losses I faced last week. A week ago today – right about now, in fact – I was mourning the loss of my magic box. Believe me, the weeping and wailing would have broken your heart.

Remember Mary Poppins’s remarkable carpet bag? The one from which she removed not only all her garments but a bubbling teapot and 5’ rubber plant? Well, my box was like that. It was only about 14” x 13” x 2” but inside it were many of the things I cherish most in this world. Just to give you an idea: I’ve been compiling a very personal cookbook over the last several years, a book I intended to make into a legacy for my children. All the carefully gathered recipes were in that box, along with 16 or 18 pages of the best quotes I’d come across in a lifetime of collecting other writers’ words. Underneath that I’d crammed about eighteen month’s worth of fan letters – every word of which was deeply appreciated, and existed nowhere else. Stored carefully with the letters was a list of 468 of my favorite people in the world – people kind or deluded or bored enough to sign up for my mailing list. (That’s almost 500 people who might now wonder why they won’t get the picture of my pit bull in an elf collar posing with my bunny in a Santa hat this year.) Nor might anybody ever see the Nightshade Christmas story I promised who-knows-how-many readers. Yep, almost finished, but nowhere I can reach it. I think I left it right on top of the hundred or so irreplaceable pictures I’d planned to “frame” for my mother and mother-in-law this Christmas. I took them off the camera, put them in the box, erased the memory card in preparation for the holidays . . . lost every visual record of the glorious trips we made to Utah and the beach during the precious few days my Marine was home on leave. Heck, I even had an ARC of my favorite new book – Jeff’s – in there, and it’s gone too.

Talk about a Black Friday. It began well enough. I got up early to send you all a happy little blog I’d written about keeping a gratitude journal. (Appropriate for the day-after-Thanksgiving, don’t you think?) The blog was, of course, in the box. I sat down, opened the lid, pressed the little button that magically releases all the contents and . . . nothing happened. Nothing except a low sort of keening sound. (I’m not sure if it was me or the box.) I tried again and again and again and again. I called for help. I wept and wailed when all help failed, and then when everything was blackest I kicked the darn thing. (Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have.) But it wouldn’t release the contents no matter what I did or who I asked. I now fear I will never see any of those things again.

I know it’s self-centered, but hours later when I saw on TV the devastating fires in California and the earthquakes and floods in other diverse places, I felt a deeper empathy than I ever have before. I didn’t lose everything, or even close to it, but I lost enough to make me a little more tender-hearted.

Let’s pray I also lost enough to make me a little smarter.

This is where the moral to the cautionary tale comes in. While there’s probably nothing anybody could have done to prevent what happened to the church building, there are things I could have done to preserve and protect the contents of my box. I’ve been told (and told and told) that there are vast cyber-vaults to which all one’s treasures can be sent for a very nominal fee. I’ve seen for myself that there are these pretty little round, flat, shiny things that when inserted in a special slot in the box make perfect copies of all that is near and dear. My brother even gave me a magic key for my box last Christmas. All I have to do is stick it in the front of my box and push a couple of buttons and – voila! – I can remove all my recipes, pictures, books, quotes . . . life . . . stick it in my pocket and sleep peacefully at night.

I’ve never done any of those things. (Yes, really. I’m either an optimist or an idiot. Perhaps I’m both.) But now I will. At least I will when (if) I get another magic box. I’m borrowing one now. It’s been to Iraq – possibly twice – so it’s gritty with sand and missing three keys. (Fortunately, those letters and functions are over-rated.) It doesn’t have a word processor, but you can write volumes here on Blogger without them kicking you out. Perhaps I can write a novel, or at least a short story, over on AOL and mail it to myself. Might work.

So life is good and I’m still finding things to write in my gratitude journal. (Wish I had the blog; it would have saved you this pathetic ramble.) I’m also starting over cyber-wise. Anybody want to sign up for my new-and-improved mailing list? So far I have two people on it – me and the dog. She never loses anything she cherishes; she either puts it under her bed and lays on top of it or buries it in the backyard. Wonder if that would work for me . . .

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Counting Stars While On Hazardous Duty

By Julie Coulter Bellon

For my birthday a week and a half ago, I received books and gift certificates for more books. So I went to Seagull Book and walked around with my gift certificates, trying to decide which books I was most anxious to read. There were so many good ones to choose from, and it was a very difficult decision, but I cut it down to the final four: Hazardous Duty by Betsy Brannon Green, Counting Stars by Michele Holmes, The Deep End by Traci Abramson, and Midnight Whispers by Carol Warburton.

I brought them home and I started reading my new books beginning with Counting Stars by Michele Holmes. I picked up this one because the premise looked so interesting. A dying man whose wife has died in a car accident is looking for a woman to take care of his children. Jane has never been able to find love, but doesn’t really know if she should take a chance on falling in love with a dying man and his two infants.

The book is divided up into three sections, with a prologue. The prologue drew me right in, the author’s descriptions making me feel as if I was right there. Part One, however, really slowed down the pace and it seemed to take forever to establish the characters (thirty-one chapters, albeit short chapters). For me, the story picked back up with Part Two and I was riveted with the turn it had taken. The author really seemed to warm up in Part Two and showcased her ability to write tension between characters that made me not want to put the book down. It was dramatic and nerve-wracking, yet still funny and relatable. The character of Pete was complex and dynamic and I really like how the author took heartbreaking events and tied them directly to the development and strength of her main characters. The romance was exceptionally well done and I could hardly finish it fast enough—I just had to know what happened! I thought the ending was a little rushed and really, the book could have been broken up into two books with all the drama and action packed into it, but the author does a great job with the material. The book is very dramatic and heartbreaking, yet still funny with several memorable characters. It’s not your typical LDS romance and doesn’t have the neat happy ending that is somewhat expected, but it feels like a fresh new style for the genre and I would recommend it.

The next birthday book I read was Betsy Brannon Green’s, Hazardous Duty. I was a little nervous to read what was in store because she’s going in a whole new direction, but as a fan of Ms. Green’s I couldn’t wait to see what she would do with a new set of characters.

Hazardous Duty is the story of Savannah McLaughlin whose daughter is snatched from her elementary school and neither the police, FBI, nor private investigators can find her. But Savannah thinks that a man from her past, Major Christopher Dane, who is specially trained for difficult military extractions, could possibly help her. The only problem is, their history is such that she's betrayed him before and he currently hates her. She uses everything she has to convince him to take her case, telling herself she would do anything to find her daughter--even if that means begging and groveling to him. Major Dane isn't anxious to take her case and lets her know it. The situation becomes more dangerous and complicated with every chapter as Ms. Green lays down the clues. With her trademark twists and turns that keep even the most experienced mystery reader guessing, the story barrels toward an exciting ending that is very unexpected. I am anxiously looking forward to the next book and to finding out more about her new characters! I can't wait to see where Ms. Green takes this new series. I really recommend this book as well.

The third book is The Deep End by Traci Abramson and I just started it yesterday so I can’t really give it a review quite yet. The first five chapters are wonderful and it seems balanced with action and some romantic angst. I’m hoping to finish this one today and start on Midnight Whispers. My mother-in-law actually read Midnight Whispers first and recommended it to me, so I’m excited to get started on it.

It feels good to be reading again as I have felt so busy in the past little while. There are so many good books out there. If you’ve read something good lately, let me know what you thought was good. Christmas is coming and I want to have my wish list ready!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


by Stephanie Black

The house is messy, I need to throw in a batch of laundry, and tonight is Young Women in Excellence, which means I need to figure out what I'm going to say to introduce our theme. I also need to go to Costco, make brownies and make a pot of soup. So I fear today's blog will be only a bloglet.

But is this a cool picture, or what?

These are some kind of jellyfish. I took this picture last Friday at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Jellyfish are interesting critters. And here's a sign of our changing times for you--it was cheaper for us to buy a year's membership to the Aquarium than it would have been to get our five-children-family through the door once. Kind of funny. Five kids didn't use to be a "big" family. In my grandmother's day, it was more like a starter family. But now, whoa, we're huge! We should have our own zip code!

Good news: I finished going through the edit of my manuscript and sent it back to my editor. The only problem is I keep getting these nervous twitches thinking I messed something up. So far none of my "oh no!" moments have turned out to be real problems. I hope that trend continues.

I gotta go make brownies.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Today was a pretty exciting day. I got my first advance. I’m sure pretty much every author knows what an advance is, but for you non-authors, there are two ways we get paid. The most common way is royalties paid on books sold. For many smaller publishers, that is the only way they pay. But bigger publishers also pay you some money upfront. That’s pretty cool, because I won’t actually see my first royalty check on this book until Feb of 09. In fact, I will probably get the advance on my second book in the Farworld series before I get my first royalty check on the first book. Weird huh?

So anyway, I would be going out to dinner or something exciting, except that I am once again on the road. (I’m in Duluth, James. Got any suggestions for dinner?) As it turns out I won’t even be able to see my first royalty check because I won’t be back home until late Wednesday and I want the money in the bank. But I am having my wife make a color copy of the check so I can frame it and put it over my desk. Heck yeah.

So what am I writing about tonight? Actually rejection. Why rejection when I just hit one of the highlights of my writing career so far? Because no matter how much you accomplish as a writer (and often as a person in general,) you still have to deal with the R word. In fact I would say it is through rejection, even because of rejection that I was able to reach this point. Rejection—like most adversity—is not something we wish for, but maybe it should be. Let me explain.

In most endeavors people tend to reach a point where rejection no longer bothers them. Imagine some yahoo going up to Peyton Manning and saying, “Hey man you suck. You can’t throw a football for beans and your footwork is all wrong.” Do you think Peyton Manning would care? No way. He would go right on doing what he has been doing and would rightfully assume the yahoo was, well a yahoo.

But as authors we hate rejection. Even authors who have published many, many books still get upset when some yahoo says, “Your books stink, man.” Somehow deep down inside, I think most writers are afraid all of their success has been a fluke and they really stink. Well some published writers do stink, but that’s just because they went back to school and don’t shower often enough. But that’s another thing entirely.

I began learning about rejection at quite a young age. In first grade, I wrote a poem for a girl that I affectionately called, “wife.” As in, “Wife, can I play four square with you?” and “Wife, are you having hot lunch today?” I still remember the poem. It was quite original and deeply romantic

Monkey see,
Monkey do.
Monkey see that
I love you.

Now, I obviously expected a result a little more positive than having her cry and tell the teacher I was bothering her. After talking to the principal (actually it may not quite have been just talking now that I think about it) I learned that not only did the girl not like my poem, but she also didn’t like being called wife. So you see, how many future writers started out their careers by getting paddled and rejected for their first work?

I endured many future rejections, up to and including having my wife blow off my first attempt to take her out for a year—as documented in an earlier blog. And over time I learned a couple of things. Allow me to share with you my hard earned lessons.

No. 1—It’s not you. Actually that’s not entirely true. Sometimes it is you and that really stinks. For example, had Kevin Campbell, the boy who looked like the Mad Magazine kid, but who could run and play kickball better than anyone else in our grade, written the Monkey poem, I think it would have been accepted for its intent. But in general, as a writer you have to accept that the project is being rejected, not you. Hard as it is, you have to understand that the only thing that is being rejected is one piece of your writing.

Even more important, it’s is often not even your writing that is necessarily being rejected. Your writing may be great. Your idea may be great. Your characters may rock. But you can still get rejected for something as simple as timing, market, or competing products. A respected publishing insider said that once you reach a certain point in your writing, it is much more about timing and luck than it is about quality of writing. But throw enough bait into enough different fishing spots and you will catch a fish.

No 2—The successful writer does not take every rejection at face value. Ask yourself some questions. Do I respect the knowledge base of the person who rejected my work? (If the person who hates your book starts by saying, “I never read . . .” there’s a good chance you shouldn’t give their opinion a lot of weight.

What was actually rejected? Was it my query letter? My first three chapters? My plot? My characters. My genre? Too often we assume that the story doesn’t work, when it is a simple genre issue or just a weak query.

Why was my work rejected? (Ask questions. What didn’t you like? Was it the writing? Was it the timing? Is this not something that your company currently sells or represents?) Let me give you a real world (non-writing) example of why this is so important. Prior to my mission, long hair on guys was pretty cool. Obviously during my mission I had short hair. Well after I got off my mission I grew my hair pretty long again, grew a mustache, and bought a motorcycle. The thing was that whenever I asked girls out or went to dances, I got totally blown off. Pretty soon my self-esteem was in the toilet. I couldn’t get dates because I was a loser. (Yeah I know, setting myself up for all kinds of shots here, but that’s how it was.)

Then a funny thing I happened. I went in the Army. When I came back from basic and AIT I had short hair, a tan, and a pretty good build. Guess what? Suddenly girls were flocking to me at dances. In fact they were the same girls that wanted nothing to do with me nine months earlier. It wasn’t until I was talking to two girls I had dated several times and realized they didn’t know who I was, that it dawned on me. I was being viewed as a different person because of my short hair, etc. If only I’d taken the time to find that out earlier I could have saved my self 18 months of terrible self esteem.

How does that tie into rejection as writers? How many times do we get one rejection and quit? One for crying out loud! Or we get five rejections. Or ten. And never ever stop to say, hmm, wonder why my work is being rejected? We don’t take the time to find out it is the length of our hair or the walrus mustache. We tell ourselves we are losers as writers. That we stink. And we either quit or decide that story is no good. Which leads me to . . .

No 3—Research, rewrite, repackage, and resubmit. This might make me a pariah,(actually I just like to use that word) but I hate the whole, “You got rejected? Boo hoo. Go eat some chocolate. That publisher/agent/editor sucks anyway.” PLEASE! I know I’ve done enough football analogy, but do you really think Payton Manning goes home and eats a box of chocolate after he loses a game? Heck no. He finds out why he lost, changes his approach, and vows never to lose again. He hates losing and he does everything he can to get a win in the next game.

Stop crying about your freaking rejection and do something about it? Don’t bother to lick your wounds, wear them as badges of courage and get back into the game. Figure out why your work was rejected. If your writing needs work, get a critique group, or ask a couple of other authors to help you get a fresh look. If the writing is good but it didn’t work for that particular publisher or agent, talk to them. Maybe you can change something in the story, genre, series, or whatever and make it work. In sales you sell 80% of your product to existing customers. Use the same approach in publishing. Before you run off to another publisher with your work, find out if they are open to having you resubmit. If not, move on to another publisher. If you put your book back on the shelf after one try, it’s like figuring the fish aren’t biting when you’ve only tried one kind of bait. (See I can do fishing analogies too.)

No—4 There are lots of bad writers in the world, but you are not one of them. Get that through your head. Bad writers are the people who never finish what they start, who never read books, who say, “I’m going to write a book some day. And I’ll probably sell a million copies—but just not today.” You are not that person. You read lots of books. You know what is good and what sucks. You have written at least one complete novel or are working on finishing it right now. You work at your craft. You go to conferences, classes, and read books. Your give your work to people who are not family and ask for honest hard core feedback. So stop wasting your time by beating yourself up and writing a big L on your head in chocolate ice-cream.

Will some people hate your book? Absolutely. But then some people thought the UofU was going to beat BYU last Saturday. And they were wrong! With less than two minutes to go, BYU knew they could score a touchdown even though they hadn’t the entire game. If you spent as much time looking forward as you do looking backward you’d have twice as much success as you do now.

One last football analogy. I played football in high school for exactly one year. It was my freshman year and I was a pipsqueak. I got hammered all the time. But I learned one thing (not counting that I should go out for cross country the next year.) That one thing was hit harder than you get hit. In those bone crunching collisions you see on the field, the guy who usually gets hurt is the guy who pulls up. Even a hundred pound weakling can get the better of a much bigger opponent if he goes on the offensive. The way to keep from getting hurt is to go all out and not to cringe. If you think you are going to get hurt, you usually will.

The same is true in life. If you go through life thinking you are a failure you will invariably fail. If you go through life expecting to get hurt you will. If you go through life thinking you are a loser you will lose. If you expect to be rejected, you will. The people who succeed seldom look at an opportunity and think, “I can’t do that.” They go for every opportunity full steam and later look back and say, “Wow! Look what I did.” You are a winner. So expect to win.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

No Empty Chairs

By Julie Coulter Bellon

Today we will all be gathered around our Thanksgiving table, laden with a turkey feast, as we enjoy our family and close friends. I love the symbolism of a table to gather around, the chairs filled with those we love. It seems easier to count my blessings when I am in that setting.

I am so grateful that all the chairs at my table are filled, but today I will be thinking of those who may have an empty chair this year.

I am grateful that doctors were able to care for my family so that there are no empty chairs at my table, but today I will be thinking of those who may have lost a loved one and have an empty chair.

I am grateful to live in America, but today I will be thinking of those who have an empty chair at their table because they have a loved one fighting in faraway lands for America.

I am grateful to have family and friends who forgive, love and support me even when we argue and have a falling out, but today I will be thinking of those who may have an empty chair because they have been hurt or have hurt someone and pray they will be able to find forgiveness and peace.

I am grateful to even have a chair, a roof over my head, running water, indoor plumbing, a soft bed to sleep in, and plenty of food to eat, but today I will be thinking of those who are less fortunate and won’t be sitting down at a table filled with food today.

I am grateful for my knowledge of my Savior, of His mission on earth, the Plan of Salvation and the restored gospel, but today I will be thinking of those who don’t have that knowledge and peace in their lives and how much Jesus loves all of us and wants no empty chairs at His table.

The hope is that someday we will all join with Him once again in heaven to partake of the feast that Heavenly Father has prepared for every one of His children. It is His work and His glory to bring to pass the immortality of man. To me, that means, no empty chairs and what an opportunity we have here on earth to share in that and how much work there is still to be done.

So today I am giving thanks for the blessings I have, which include all of you, and hoping that someday, there will be no empty chairs anywhere.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hurrah for the Pumpkin Pie

by Stephanie Black

I was going to post a picture of a turkey that I took at the zoo on Saturday, but Jeff beat me to the turkey photo, so I'm posting a photo of a peacock (and my son) instead.

As for pumpkin pie—I’ve never been fond of it. I don’t think it’s disgusting, but if given a choice between pumpkin pie and any other kind of pie, I’ll always take door number 2. Some members of my clan are keen on pumpkin pie, so we’ll have one tomorrow. We’ll also have the mandatory chocolate pie (the only kind my oldest son likes), cranberry crumb pie (a marvelous recipe I got from my mother-in-law many years back) and lemon meringue pie (my husband will make this one). And since we’re having some friends over for pie in the evening, I think I can get away with making a fruit pie too, either apple or cherry. I think I’d better go count my pie tins; I’m not sure how many I own. I’ve got a great pie crust recipe, my grandmother’s recipe. It’s the kind with egg and vinegar in it and is very hard to ruin.

We’re doing Thanksgiving dinner solo, which is not unusual for us. My parents live twelve hours away and my husband’s parents are all the way across the country. I wish we were nearer to family, but we still have lots of fun on our own. I want to get a head start on dinner today so I don’t have to spend all day tomorrow in the kitchen. It would be good to have more time to go for a walk to enjoy the beautiful weather or to play a round of Settlers of Catan. I am cursed in that game; I think I’ve won maybe once out of all the times we’ve played. It may be that I’m just not a very good strategist, but I prefer to think that the Fates are conspiring against me, because really, it couldn’t be my fault, could it?

The last couple of years we’ve cooked our turkey on the barbecue. The grill basically acts just like an oven. I object if my husband wants to try anything too experimental with the turkey, because for Thanksgiving dinner, I don’t want anything to interfere with my gravy in either volume or taste. Gravy is a vital component of dinner. Yams, however, are optional, but my husband likes them, so we make them. How about you? Yam fan or not?

My daughter's nursery leader gave her a "thankful tree." This was foam tree with foam leaves. On each leaf, we were supposed to write something my daughter is thankful for. It was cute to see the things she chose. I confess to helping her out with some of them, but others were her own idea. She is grateful for salmon, lemon cookies and Dad's bread. Me too.

So what are your Thanksgiving traditions? What are the dishes you insist on seeing (or you try to avoid) on your Thanksgiving table? Besides the food, what other traditions do you have? Come share!

Here’s wishing all of you a happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving Forum

Moderated by Robison Wells

Greetings! To all you Americans out there, Happy Thanksgiving! To all you non-Americans out there, what are you doing mooching off our internet? Do you have a visa for this?

If you’re not American, or you’re just a very dumb American, let me give a quick rundown on what Thanksgiving is. Basically, a long long time ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedication to the proposition that all men are created equal. Kinda makes you wish you lived here, huh? Well sorry, Bernard, but you’re stuck with crummy old Canada, dedicated to the proposition that potato chips would be better with ketchup.

Anyway, Thanksgiving celebrates when the first European settlers of our fine continent gathered together with the Native Americans for a big feast of turkey and cranberry sauce, after which the patriots and the chiefs went and kicked a pig.

So, with that explanation, I’d like to present our esteemed panel of guests. We’re very excited to have them here, all in one place for the first time. Without further ado: Captain John Smith, Squanto, James River, Constance Hopkins, Joe Theismann, and Leif Erickson.

Rob: Captain John Smith, I think I’ll start the questions with you. Tell me about the first Thanksgiving.

Captain Smith:
Oh, it was great. There was, like, turkey and potatoes and stuffing, and Pocahontas made this awesome green bean casserole.

Squanto: He’s telling you lies, Rob. We ate eels.

Rob: Really? Eels?

Captain Smith:
Technically yes. And Pocahontas wasn’t there. To tell the truth, we were all relieved about that. Now, you don’t have to believe me, but that Disney movie didn’t get it right. In that thing she was all hot, with nice legs and a short skirt. But in reality she was really homely. And her best friend wasn’t a raccoon—it was a big blond guy named Chad. I never had a chance.

Rob: Constance Hopkins, what say you?

Constance: About what?

Rob: Thanksgiving. Pocahontas. Whatever.

Constance: Pocahontas was a hussy. We pilgrim women have to tromp around in eighteen layers of burlap, and she’d frolic up and down the river in a tight leather skirt.

Captain Smith: I just said that she wasn’t all that easy on the eyes.

Constance: But better than a sixty pound black dress. I look like a nun.

Captain Smith: You’re cruisin’ for a scarlet letter, Constance.

Constance: Don’t I wish.

Captain John Smith: Rob, can I ask why Constance Hopkins is here? Who’s she?

Constance: You could ask me, you know. I’m right in front of you.

Rob: Well, Constance Hopkins is… well, she’s a pilgrim woman.

Constance: I’m also standing right here.

Captain John Smith: A pilgrim woman? So? Is there anything special about her?

Constance: [storms off in a huff]

Rob: There’s probably something significant about her. She’s the only pilgrim woman I could find mentioned on Wikipedia. I didn’t read the article, though.

Captain John Smith: Women, huh?

Rob: You’re preaching to the choir, Captain John Smith.

Constance: [from far away] I heard that!

Rob: Man, I guess it was nag nag nag even back in the 1600’s, or 1500’s, or whenever the heck pilgrims were around. Anyway, what say you James River?

James River: Well, I think you must have misinterpreted something, because my name’s not James River. I’m THE James River. As in, the river whereon Jamestown was settled.

Rob: Really? Someone must have screwed up the invitations. Anyway, do you know any charming anecdotes about Thanksgiving?

James River: Not really. I vaguely remember that sometime in November I had a bunch of eels swimming in me, and then later I didn’t. One would assume they were caught and eaten.

Rob: Squanto, is this really true? Eels for dinner? Haven’t you ever heard of Stove Top? Butterball?

Squanto: Yes, it’s true. But what’s also true is that the so-called “first thanksgiving” wasn’t really the first thanksgiving. The first Thanksgiving took place about twenty miles north of Jamestown and was attended by only 38 people, none of whom I know by name.

Rob: That’s awesome, Squanto. So, Joe Theismann, tell me something about the Redskins.

Squanto: I’m not done yet. The Jamestown Thanksgiving was in 1621. In 1617 there was a big plague in New England which wiped out between 90-96% of all the Native Americans. It was way worse than that milquetoast bubonic plague you Europeans are always going on about.

Rob: I’m not always going on about that.

Squanto: I was talking to Captain John Smith. Whenever I bring up the plague in New England, he’s always “You think that’s bad, we had a plague in Europe blah blah blah.” Sometimes I just wish that he’d let me have the final word. Like when I was teaching him to catch eels, he was all “You call this an eel? We’d use these things for bait back in Jolly Old England.”

Captain John Smith: Squanto! I had no idea I was making you feel this way!

Squanto: It hurts, Captain John Smith. Sometimes I just want to scream “I’m Squanto, and I am enough!”

Captain John Smith: Let’s never fight again!
[Squanto and Captain John Smith hug.]

Rob: So, Joe Theismann. Tell me about the Redskins.

Joe Theismann: Well, this is a transition season for us. We’re building, but we’ve got a lot of great talent, particularly on offense. Someone recently said that Jason Campbell ought to be the MVP.

Leif Erickson: Yeah, you know who said that? Some guy on the message boards called SimpleSandwichMan123. The Redskins stink. Go Vikings!

Rob: Leif, were the Vikings really the first Europeans here in America?

Leif Erikson: What do I look like? Wiki-freakin’-pedia? All I know is that we eat a lot of seafood in Norway, but we never eat eels. What’s wrong with you, Squanto?

Squanto: Give me a break, man. All my family died in a crummy European plague.

Joe Theismann: Oh, knock it off. We’ve all seen you when you cough, Squanto—you never cover your mouth. And I watched you wipe your nose right before you shook Leif Erikson’s hand today.

Leif Erikson: What? Oh, gross.

Joe Theismann: So anyway, Squanto, cool it with the “the Europeans gave me a plague” stuff.

Squanto: That's a valid point.

Rob: Well, that’s all the time we have today. Tune in next week for—

James River: Wait, we haven’t talked about Thanksgiving yet. What about the prayers and the tradition and the gratitude.

Rob: Well, uh…

Leif Erikson: I like to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Captain John Smith: Ooh, me too. But don’t you just hate it how all the singers are losers who you’ve never heard of—and they’re lip-synching anyway.

Rob: Unfortunately, time has run out. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Joe Theismann: Remember to fully cook your turkey. Proper food safety is no joke!

All: And that’s a fact we can all live with!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Happy Turkey Day!!!

In honor of the big T-day, several of the of the Froggers will be hibernating. I for one have decided to reprint one of my best blogs . . .

So what did you think? It was the one where I completely forgot. Funny how that got so many positive responses, huh? Have a great holiday, and thanks for joining us here at the frog blog. It’s been great making so many new friends.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Where It All Began

By Sariah S. Wilson

I’ve had a fascination with Mesoamerican peoples since college.

I can actually pinpoint when this fascination began.

I took a world history class that changed the course of my life. When I was younger, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had friends in high school who knew exactly what they wanted. I hoped that when I went to college I would just figure it out.

I didn’t. I tried all sorts of classes and my major and career aspirations changed frequently. I was going to be a social worker. A professor. An actress. An elementary school teacher. A dancer. A CEO of an international corporation. A psychologist. A lawyer. Nothing quite fit.

So by my junior year when I was supposed to be making a final decision on what I wanted to major in, as I watched my roommates and friends get on track to become photographers and nurses and math teachers, I still didn’t know what I should choose. I had been flirting with majoring in psychology, and had decided I should probably keep heading in that direction since I was already pointed that way.

Then I took world history, a requirement at BYU. (I don’t remember my professor’s name. I can see his face, but can’t remember the name.) I loved it. I loved learning about history and I was good at memorizing it and analyzing it and taking tests on it. In my class my professor was notorious for giving very difficult exams. He’d never had a perfect score. On the mid-term I missed one (and shouldn’t even have missed that, I misread the question), and I was the first in all his years at the Y to only miss one. I totally destroyed the curve in that class.

Then he invited Dr. Thomas Pearcy to speak to us about the Maya and the Aztecs. Dr. Pearcy related the culture of those peoples to the people in the scriptures, the first time I had ever heard it done so. I was totally fascinated. I still vividly remember him saying, “You know all that stuff Moroni said he couldn’t tell you about? I’m going to tell you about it,” and describing the ritual sacrifices and all the other gory stuff that marked the Mesoamerican cultures. I got hooked.

History became my major, and I took an insane number of credit hours to be able to graduate with a degree in history. (One semester I had six history classes. SIX. I never stopped reading and writing. I had to quit my job I was so overwhelmed. And I was a TA for a history class. Insanity, I tell you.)

From that point on, I was fascinated by the connection between the Book of Mormon and Central America. My world history professor gave me a love of history, and Dr. Pearcy gave me a love of the culture of the Book of Mormon. (Remind me some day to tell you the story of how I had Dr. Pearcy for my senior thesis and the coincidental link between us that I think helped get me an A in that class.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The English Class Journal

First, allow me to apologize for not posting last week. I had a terrific blog lined up -- this very one, in fact. Imagine my horror when I opened my laptop and discovered I had no Internet access. Yes, folks, it's true. There are areas in this very country where you can turn on a computer and read: No wireless networks available. Scary, huh? I visited the "Most Haunted House in America" last weekend and, believe me, it was nothing in comparison to my Friday morning fright.

Speaking of haunted houses, this week's guest blogger is the author of a genuine LDS ghost story! You'll have to follow the link to find it, but first read her story of the English Class Journal. It's pretty chilling too, albeit in an entirely different way.


by LizAnne Bayh

As we grow older, we forget how insecure and awkward teenage years can be! The summer before my sophomore year I attended music camp at a local university and met an adorable young man from my high school. I developed an immediate infatuation for the guy and carried this secret crush into the school year, even though Pete felt no attraction toward me.

Our sophomore English teacher required us to bring a spiral notebook in which to keep a journal. Mine was a generic type, nothing special. Mrs. Jones gave us the first eight minutes of class to record our thoughts and feelings, and of course I wrote about meeting Pete and seeing him at school, and how he ignored me, and how I wished he would ask me out, and . . . well you know, the typical wishes of a teenage girl.

One day I unwittingly left the notebook in my desk when I went to my next class. I didn’t miss it until one of Pete’s friends snickered as he passed me between classes. “So you you’ve got the hots for Pete, huh?”

Huh? I whirled to watch the boy disappear down the crowded hall.

The next day I heard from others of Pete’s friends, and from what they said I figured they had my English journal and it had become their favorite leisure reading. What creeps! And Pete must be a creep too, I consoled myself, since he had such jerks for friends. I tried to hate him, but truly couldn’t see past how wonderful he was. Even though, I felt humiliated. I wished I could transform into an ant and crawl under a rock to die, or change high schools, or drop out, but I couldn't manage the first and my parents wouldn’t go for the latter of those solutions.

On the third day I sat with friends on campus while frantically finishing my algebra homework when I noticed Pete leave his circle of friends and walk toward me. Oh, no! I thought as I turned to hide my face, hoping he wouldn’t see me, but too late. I was cornered.

He held out the notebook. “I’m sorry my friends read this and for all the embarrassment it has caused you. I hope we can still be friends.”

Surprised at the compassion in his voice, but still feeling hurt and humiliated, I agreed.

We were friends in an awkward sort of way after that. He never asked me out, but was always a gentleman and kind. To this day, when teenage girls overreact in what they see as a crisis, I try to give them leeway, for I remember how hard those years can be, and the pain caused from losing my English journal.
* * *

"Any house that lies empty for so many years
is apt to gather a few ghosts in its dust."

Read the first two chapters of LizAnne Bayh's delightful LDS ghost story Haunts Haven!

Strike A Pose

By Julie Coulter Bellon

This weekend is my birthday.

It’s not a milestone, per se, except for the fact that I have to get my license renewed so I can keep driving. Of course, in order to renew, I had to go down to the happiest place on earth—the DMV. The man behind the info desk greeted me so kindly as if he felt sorry for me. He didn’t say much, just handed me a number. I looked up at the merrily flashing digital numbers on the board and saw that they were currently serving number sixteen. Of course my little number said 218. I sighed and smiled at the man behind the desk before I went to sit down. I had a long piece of paper to fill out with a billion questions on it, so I settled in to wait. However, I was shocked that before I had even written more than my address and phone number on the paper, they called my number. Apparently they have several stations and the stations on the right are on 16 and the stations on the left were in the 200's. In less than five minutes I was back sitting, waiting for my picture to be taken.

Which brings me to the point of my blog today. I’m going to tell you the worst thing about being a published author.

Are you ready?

The worst thing about being a published author is having your picture taken for the back of the book.

Just like the DMV, whenever my picture is taken it just never turns out. The lady behind the counter even took my picture three times to see if we could get a little better picture, but alas, we finally gave up. It’s pretty much the same with all the pictures in the back of my books. We take a million pictures, we go to photographers and then lay them all out and try to pick the one that I can bear to look at. I just don’t like looking at pictures of myself. If I had my druthers, I think I’d just post my engagement pictures when I was young, thin, and beautiful, but if I did that, then when I came for book signings I’m pretty sure no one would recognize me.

Thankfully my pictures in the back of my books look a teeny bit better than the one I got today at the DMV.

But I’m going to concentrate on the positive—it’s my birthday this weekend.

Okay, never mind. That just means I’m getting older. And someone will probably take more pictures.


I bet you know what my wish will be this year when I blow my candles . . .

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I Heart Editors

by Stephanie Black

I got the edits back on my upcoming suspense novel, Fool Me Twice, and I’m having a lot of fun working through revisions. I’m a reviser at heart—I like revising much more than drafting. I love taking an already-written manuscript and making it better. I’m always nervous when I receive evaluations or edits, but once I get rolling on revisions, I get excited. I love seeing the book improve and knowing the story will be stronger and richer for the revisions. I’m grateful for eagle-eyed editors and evaluators who point out weaknesses so I can fix them. I’d much rather have an editor point out that a plot point is too pat or a character too flat than have a reviewer make the same point after it’s too late for me to change anything.

One thing I’ve learned is that no matter how many times I revise a manuscript on my own, it’s not going to be the best it can be until it passes through the hands of professional editors. A good editor is worth his or her weight in platinum. Unclear, awkward, or repetitive phrasings—murky meanings—wordiness or poor word choices—ah yes, there are a multitude of little issues now marked in red on a manuscript that seemed so clean to me when I sent it in.

For instance, the editor pointed out that an outfit I’d described sounded too 1980s. This would never have occurred to me, and I'm grateful to her for noticing it. When I mentioned the outfit in question to my teenage daughter and her friend, they were appalled at my abject nerdiness. “WHITE jeans? NO ONE wears white jeans.” Okay, I'm kind of a fashion dunce.

Then there was the comment that that gave me a good giggle—a tactful note that one of my descriptions sounded a bit . . . shall we say . . . obscene. No, I wasn’t describing a person; I won’t tell you what I was describing, but suffice it to say that the editor was right and may blessings be heaped upon her head for catching it.

So in this season of Thanksgiving, I'd like to say I am grateful for my editors. And now I’ve got to get to work on those edits. Got a consistency problem to work out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

An Open Letter to Everyone

Dear Everyone,

It has come to my attention that you're all bugging me. Now, I know what you're thinking: "Rob is the most patient of all LDS writers. He's, like, the frickin' professor of long-suffering. Fully tenured, no less." And you're right. Sometimes I amaze myself with all my "no, please, continue being a moron" and "I will cheerfully bite my tongue while you embarrass us both". But, the time has come for me to mention one or two little things about your manners as of late.

  1. When you're in front of me at Cold Stone Creamery (the ice cream establishment with the most delectable of all frozen treats) please try to know what you're going to order by the time you get to the counter. Again, I know what you're going to say: "But Rob, how will I know what to order if I don't look at the selection?" Here's my sure-fire, two-step method:
    • First, you're not an idiot, right? You've eaten ice cream before? The flavors don't really change all that much. Yes, you might not have tried the latest version of vanilla. You've only ever had French Vanilla and Canadian Vanilla and Sans-Fat Vanilla-Lite and Regular Old Vanilla--you've never yet had the chance to try Swiss Vanilla Explosiano. Here's the secret: It's just ice cream. Order it and get out of my way.

    • Second: We've been standing in this line for FORTY MINUTES!!! What have you been doing this whole time if you haven't been thinking about what kind of ice cream you're going to order? Talking on your cell phone? Would you please step out into the parking lot with me?

  2. Even at a football game, you might be surprised to learn that there are socially accepted behaviors. The football players themselves have to follow certain rules of conduct or they'll get themselves thrown out of the game. What makes you think you're so special, big guy?

    Specifically, I'm referring to your continual insistence on standing up. Sure, I like standing up as much as the next guy, jumping up and down and yelling and screaming and making a scene. HOWEVER: look around you. Are you the only idiot standing up, and everyone in front of you is sitting down? And are you forcing the people behind you to stand up to see over your ugly head? If so: what's your problem?

  3. Also at a football game: please don't stand on the benches. It forces everyone behind you to stand on the benches to see over your ugly head.

  4. Also, do something about that ugly head of yours.

  5. However, don't get all prettied up and go to the game expecting it to be a fun party where you can see and be seen. I generally sit in the student section, with a bunch of rabid fans, and there's inevitably one girl who gets dressed up in trendy clothes that don't match either teams colors. Last week a girl was wearing three-inch heels. To a football game. (Although maybe that was just to help her see over the ugly-heads in front of her.)

  6. When you go to the BYU devotional and President Monson is speaking, as he was today, shut up. I can't imagine what you possibly had to say that was more important that what President Monson had to say, but you certainly were vocal about it, what with your laughing and carrying on.

    My wife likes to try to come up with stories which justify people's bad behavior. She says it helps her be compassionate and understanding. I say it helps blind her to how annoying people are. Anyway, here's an attempt to justify your appalling gabfest during President Monson's speech: That really hot girl you were sitting next to was partially deaf, and you had to relay all of President Monson's speech. While you were whispering to her, you discovered that she's not a member of the church! She just came to the Marriott Center because she was coaxed by the Spirit! So, you begin to teach her the First Discussion--but before you do so you must first Build a Relationship of Trust! And one more twist: this hot girl really trusts people who laugh during devotionals!

  7. I could go on and on, but I think that the gist of this manifesto could be easily summed up in just a few words: When in doubt, shut up and sit down.

Yours Truly,

Rob Wells


Monday, November 12, 2007

An Actual Publishing Q&A (Rob)

LDStorymakers in addition to putting on a wonderful conference every year, and hosting the Whitney Awards, also published a couple of great books on publishing in the LDS market. Publishing Secrets and Writing Secrets. Other than a lame chapter or two by James Dashner, they are very helpful books. The soon to be released: Shadowboxing Secrets 1 & 2, Moon walking Secrets, and Secret Secrets should be just as good.

After reading Publishing secrets, a lovely ex-supermodel, professional parasailer, and shadowboxer, named Elizabeth had some questions. (Notice that I am answering these and not that CPA turned children's author, Dashner. He'd probably just provide you with a spreadsheet or something.) [For those of you new to this site, I only mock Dashner when he hasn't taken me to lunch recently]

E: First of all, I'd love to express my gratitude in regards to your book, "Publishing Secrets". Thank you! I do have some questions that I believe would help with publishing and more importantly, my career plan.

6: Ask away. (Note this is a real Q&A and not some made up silliness like other authors who I will not name try to pass off as actual blogs)

E: Is it possible for me to have my works published by both LDS and national?

6: Depends what you are asking. If you want to know can an author publish in the LDS market and the national market? Sure. The LDS market is just like any other smaller market. It has its pros and cons. In the national market you have more potential upside, but you may suffer from the small fish in a big pond syndrome. For me, as soon as I began publishing I knew I wanted to succeed in both markets.

If, on the other hand, you are asking whether or not you can publish one novel in both markets (i.e. with two different publishers) at the same time, the answer is probably no. There are many reason for this, but suffice it to say that no national publisher is going to want to co-publish a book, and they definitely don’t want to re-publish a book that is out of print with an LDS publisher. In order to pull something like this off, you’d have to either sell well over 20,000 copies of your novel in the LDS market, or be a really big name.

On a side note, I’m always confused when authors are so anxious to get the rights back to a book that is not selling well. What do you really think you’re going to do with it? Take it to another publisher and say, “Hey my book sold so poorly that it is no longer in print with publisher x,y,z, but I know it will do better with you.” Not going to happen. The only exception to this would be if you sell a ton of books with publisher a,b,c and they can remarket your old books because of the heightened publicity.

E: What are (or where can I reference) the standard lengths of pages of each genre?

6: First of all, forget page lengths and focus on word count. Page length can be manipulated a lot by size of font, size of page, etc. Editors care about word count. While word counts do vary by genre, the real focus is usually on what age level you are writing to and whether or not this is your first book. Also, people break the rules all the time, so really I would concentrate more on how long the book needs to be, not if it fits a slot.

That being said, here are some ballparks. Middle grade books are usually no more than 40k words, YA are typically 70k but can go much higher. Typically books that focus more on character are longer than books that focus on plot. So a mystery might be 75k, a thriller 90k, and a romance 110k. Fantasies and historicals are often well over 120k words. However, publishers are often less likely to accept an adult first novel that is much less than 70k words or much over 120k words, so try to stay in that range.

E: What is the recommended length of pages for an average chapter?

6: remember, word count, not pages. This can vary a lot by writing style, age of the target audience, etc. James Patterson and Dan Brown tend to favor shorter chapters that move the book along more quickly. They can have chapters as short as a couple hundred words. Others may go 10k words or more. I think most adult novels are in the 1500-2500 word range, but it’s really a personal choice. Too many smaller section breaks and readers may put your book down, too short or having chapters that really don’t need a break and readers may feel you are breaking the flow. Obviously the younger the audience, the shorter the chapters.

E: When I print up my manuscript when asked for, do I start each new chapter at the top of a new page or double-spaced from the previous chapter's end?

6: Insert a page break for each new chapter. Technically chapter 1 should be half-way down the first page, but lots of people don’t adhere to that. Then again, lots of people read Rob’s books, so what do they know?

E: To start marketing myself (though I am not yet at the agent-searching stage until my synopsis is done), would it be foolish to start a website? Which would you recommend? Google's Blogger or MySpace? Or any other suggestions?

6: Definitely start a web site. You don’t need to hire a professional designer, but an agent or publisher will often check out your site if they like your work. Be aware that a web site is different from a blog. Blogger is a blog. MySpace is a community site. LDSpublisher gives some great advice on this here.

E: The last but not least... I live in a rural area where it is most difficult (I have four children under the age of ten) for me to get together with other writers in a critique group. Is it unheard of to start up a new group of my own? If not, what is the basic schedule of these functions?

6: If you don’t know of an established critique group in your area, definitely start your own. Begin by finding people at a similar level to you. Obviously you won’t all have the same strengths, nor should you or what would be the point? But if the others are way above or below you, some people will get more out of the group than others. A good place to start is by checking for local writing groups, classes, or conferences. If you are really rural, you may even look at some on-line critique groups. Orson Scott Card’s web site has a pretty good forum. I think Latterday authors used to have something called shred and dread. I’m sure others can make suggestions as well.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

And I Didn't Even Get to Meet Jenny Rappaport

by Sariah S. Wilson

Recently in an LDS writers group I belong to someone asked why we should bother belonging to the Romance Writers of America (RWA). A fellow RWA member gave several good reasons why you should belong to this organization if you write romance.

An example of why it's a good idea was the special presentation that my local RWA chapter did. We had an agent panel. Actual agents (Marta Justak and Jill Lawrence of The Justak Agency and Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown Ltd.). People who really sell your books and make sure you get lots of money.

We were given the opportunity to "pitch" to these agents. Pitching does not mean that we threw our manuscripts at them (as my 8-year-old wondered). It meant that we tried to sell them on our stories and get them interested in seeing more.

Nine times out of ten, the agent is going to request a partial (and will only not ask for it if you've pitched something to them they don't represent).

So why bother?

There are a couple of reasons.

First and foremost is that finding an agent is sort of like getting married. It's an extremely important relationship. And just as you hopefully want to date around before you settle on one person, you need to find out as much info as you can about various agents before you pick one. This isn't always easy to do, but getting to listen to them present and talk to them in a pitch session gives you a much better idea of what they're all about and whether or not you'd mesh professionally.

The second is that since the agent will most likely request the partial, you get to put the coveted words "requested materials" on the envelope, which moves you to the top of the query pile (please note that you shouldn't use these magic words unless they're really true because agents tend to become very, very unhappy with you if you try and lie).

I was supposed to pitch to Jenny Rappaport, who had originally been scheduled to come. She's James Dashner's national agent, so I planned to shamelessly name drop and tell how big of a fan James is of my work and how he demanded that she take me on as a client (okay, not really. I just wanted to be able to say, "I know James Dashner" so that I had a way to break the ice. You know how I am about making conversation). Unfortunately, Ms. Rappaport became very ill and was unable to travel. I was bummed, but these things do happen.

I was given the chance to pitch to one of the other three agents, but I passed on the opportunity to give one of the as-of-yet unpublished writers in my chapter the chance to pitch instead. Plus, based on the Google information I'd gathered, I didn't think any of the others would be a good fit for me.

Ginger Clark proved me wrong. She represents exactly what I want to write - paranormal chick lit, and she even calls it that despite chick lit being "dead." Unfortunately, I'd already made my decision, but now I have another potential agent to add to my list of people to query someday.

Ginger Clark represents science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, paranormal chicklit, literary horror, and young adult and middle grade novels. When asked about trends, she said what sells:

Military sci-fi
Alternative history
High fantasy epic sagas (Robert Jordan type)
Urban fantasy with a female lead
Romantic fantasy
Literary fantasy (like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell)
YA normal girls with normal lives wanted (Gossip Girl type books are over)
Any sort of fantasy or sci-fi series for YA or middle school age group

She said paranormal is still very, very hot but as of 2006 editors have said they're sick to death of vampires, so if you have a burning vampire story you'll have to make it fresh and new to sell it. She said currently 20% of all romances sold are paranormal. She said she was eager to see a genie or succubus series. Historicals are making a comeback, and this is being bolstered by the paranormal historical. Cross-genres are also hot right now.

They were asked what authors do that just turn them off. Ginger Clark said needy authors are hard, the type that call every day. Authors who refuse to do revisions, and those that are passive-aggressive in their interactions.

The Justak Agency echoed what Ginger said, and said their pet peeves are authors who don't do what they say they're going to do, and authors who disappear when its deadline time so that you can't get a hold of them. They also had a hard time with authors who are impatient, ignore editoral feedback, are too emotional about said feedback (that is so me and I am so in trouble).

The things the agents are tired of seeing: books about the Mayan calendar ending in 2012, vampire books, woman in jeopardy protected by an undercover police officer, copycat literature that mimics either books or movies.

The other good thing about going to a panel like this is the motivation factor. It encourages you to go home and get in front of your computer and get that literary masterpiece ready to send in to one of the inspiring agents you listened to.

Has anyone else attended a conference or panel that you found motivating?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Healing Power of Writing

by Julie Coulter Bellon

When I was twelve years old my parents went through a very difficult divorce that included a messy custody battle over me and my brother. That’s when I started really writing in a journal. I wrote down all my feelings and what I was going through. I wrote page after page and sometimes it felt like I would never be able to stop. It was so cathartic to get it all out of me and written down. Somehow writing it down seemed to take away the power of it all.

I kept a journal from then on. It’s actually kind of fun to go back now and look at some of the things that were important to me, the boys I liked, the worries I had over school, making it onto the volleyball team, deciding on which college to attend. I like being reminded of my feelings, what trials I had and how I dealt with them because I can see my growth as a person. I still do that. When I’m going through a difficult trial, I write it all down—my feelings, the situation, and how I get through it. The hurt seems to go away faster for me when I do that and I can look back and see how I’ve progressed.

It’s also fun to let my children read parts of my journal. They laugh over some of my entries about different boys that I had a crush on, and they’ve come to realize that their mother was once a kid and had a lot of the same situations that they did, but they can read all about it in my sixth grade handwriting and feel like they were really there with me. They can also read how they were as babies and how much I worried for them and loved them even when I was exhausted from being up with them all night. I do keep parts of my journal private, but I don’t mind letting my children see that I made a lot of mistakes and I dealt with them as best I could. Some situations turned out better than others, but the evidence in my journal is plain to see—when we lean on our Savior, trust in Him and look for His answers in the scriptures, we become more able to do as He asks and bend to His will. When I look back over my journals, I see my Savior’s hand in my life—watching over and protecting me, guiding me and just being there for me when my heart was broken. Seeing the tearstains on a page reminds me of how deeply I hurt and how desperately I needed a friend to understand, and when no one else was there, in the quiet moments of writing in my journal, I could feel my Savior nigh.

Not all of my journals are filled with sadness. I definitely had my share of pranks, fun, and adventures. I wrote quite a bit about a young man I met my second day at BYU. Brian and I became fast friends and I quickly found that I could tell him anything. When our singles ward went to Disneyland for Spring Break, he held my hand for the first time and I knew I was starting to fall in love with him. We hadn’t kissed or dated or said I love you, but a week after we returned home from that trip, he asked me to marry him. It is amazing for me to be able to go back in my journals and feel those feelings again, the excitement of being engaged, the sadness at writing my missionary about it, the surprise of both sets of parents since we were, you know, just friends and all. My husband isn’t a diligent journal keeper, but one fun thing we did was to read the journals he did keep and compare what he was doing on a specific day to what I was doing. The seven year age difference between my husband and I was really brought home when we realized that when he left on his mission, I was finishing sixth grade. When he was having spiritual experiences in the mission field, I was trying to sew my Merrie Miss banner. Just fun things like that.

I think writing in my journal has also improved my writing skills. I write a little every day, no matter what, and that helps me sharpen my observation and recollection skills, and gives me perspective when I'm writing about the world around me. It's very helpful when I'm trying to write real and relatable characters and feelings in my books and I am relying on my experiences. And if it hasn't helped, and you hate my style of writing, I can put that in my journal, too. Then I will remember your name for future books when I can't decide what to call the villain. Kidding, kidding. Sort of.

Writing is something I don’t think I could live without—whether it’s writing down my life story in my journal or writing a book. I think everyone has a story to tell. No one sees the world exactly the same and no one experiences situations exactly the same. When you write it down in a journal, everything seems to become more clear and reading it, for me, helps in seeking solutions to a problem, helps me see how I’ve grown and changed, and of course, reminds me of crazy stuff I did and gets me laughing at old memories.

I love my journal. It has been a healing power in my life, it has relieved burdens and become something priceless. Of course part of me did wish I hadn’t written in my journal that Brian Bellon would be a fun summer fling. I cringed a little when he read that after we were married. But then again, it’s been almost twenty summers since then and we’re still flinging. There’s a good possibility I shouldn’t have written down what really happened in my seminary class and what my title was—my secret claim to fame. (Bro. Murley, if you’re still out there, I’ll take that secret to the grave. Of course, they’d have to bury my journal with me . . .)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Conversation for Dummies (Me)

by Stephanie Black

Rob’s scintillating wit, razor-sharp interview questions, and unparalleled ability to manufacture a load of garbage on a moment’s notice tie in nicely with today’s theme: the art of conversation.

I’m not a very skilled conversationalist. Oh, I do just fine with people who are easy to talk to. Give me a chatty person and no problem, I can chat. The conversations I have trouble with are the ones where the other person is un-chatty. I don’t know how to draw them out.

For instance, suppose I see a new sister at a Relief Society activity. I should make her feel welcome. I go up and say, “Hi, I’m Stephanie.” She says, “I’m Jane Doe.” We smile. I say, “Are you new in the ward?” She says, “Yes.” I say, “Where did you move from?” She says, “Provo.” I say, “Cool” (a handy sort of all-purpose word. Another handy phrase is “Oh, that’s really neat.”). We stand in silence for an awkward moment. I pick lint off my sweater. “So what brought you here?” I ask. “My husband’s job,” she says. “What does he do?” I ask. “He’s a manager at Acme Corp,” she says. “Cool,” I say. More silence. I smile vacantly at a centerpiece. “So do you like it here?” I ask. “It’s very nice,” she says. “Yes, it’s a great community,” I say, and add, “We really like it.” Silence. “It was a beautiful day,” I say, trying again. “Yes,” she says. I concede conversational defeat, say brightly, “Good to meet you,” and slink off.

Yeah, I’m a dud. Jane, bless her, didn’t bat any of the conversational balls back to me (“So where are you from?”) and her answers were all very brief. I could have dug deeper, asking what she likes best about the town and so on, but the conversation was already starting to feel like a one-sided interrogation. If I’d kept questioning her, I’d have needed a stool and a bare light bulb.

So, all you Dale Carnegies out there—how do I draw Jane out and get a conversation going? When she’s not asking me any questions in return or expanding on any of the questions I ask her, I feel awkward pushing her for more information. Plus, if I don’t know Jane at all, I don’t know which subjects are taboo. What if I try to keep the conversation going by asking, “Do you have children?” and it turns out she has struggled with infertility for twenty years? I’d feel terrible. I know that showing genuine interest in people is important to good conversation, but when I’ve barely met someone, I feel weird saying something like, “So what are your hobbies?”

As authors, we’re supposed to promote our work, which can involve chatting with bookstore staff, readers and interviewers (unless we’re lucky(?) enough to have an interviewer like Rob who’ll just make up our answers without actually consulting us). So all you conversational whizzes out there, feel free to give me advice, so at my next book signing I can engage people in riveting conversation instead of smiling vacantly at centerpieces and talking about the weather.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Annette Lyon Gets Socratic

by Robison Wells

Last week I wrote a big long blog about marketing, and Annette Lyon said "This is g-rrrr-eat! Next week, why don't you write more about how to target our ideal customers?!" Holy cow, Annette is such a mooch.

Dear Annette,
Why are you always looking for a handout? You're such a mooch.

Hugs and kisses,

Frankly, I don't want to talk about that because it sounds boring. So, blah. I'll talk about something else.

However, today's installment in Uncle Rob's Marketing Lolapalooza will feature Annette Lyon. In fact, she's here with us in the studio today!

Rob: Annette, thanks for joining us today. We're excited to have you on the show.

Annette: Oh no, the pleasure is all mine! It's always been a dream of mine to be interviewed by you.

Rob: I hear you have a book coming out?

Annette: That's an odd sentence to put a question mark at the end of.

Rob: You're no grammar guru yourself, Lyon. Ending a sentence with a preposition? What the heck?

Annette: You've found me out! Truth be told, I never went to college. I dropped out of high school when they told me I had to read The Grapes of Wrath.

Rob: No one can blame you there. So, I hear you have a new book out?

Annette: Well, yes I do. It's called Spires of Stone and it's about the construction of the Salt Lake Temple.

Rob: You brought a clip?

Annette: I did. Here's the setup: Ren McCormack, a new convert from Chicago, has just arrived to the temple site.

Shaw Moore: Welcome, Ren, to the temple site. We only have two rules here: no dancing, and stay away from my daughter.


Ren McCormack: Hey, hey! What's this I see? I thought this was a party. LET'S DANCE!

Shaw Moore's Daughter: I love you, Ren McCormack.

Ren: Did you ever get busted for boppin'?

Rob: Well, Annette, that looks like one awesome book.

Annette: It's also 100% punctuation-free. I'm trying to be more like Faulkner.

Rob: Wasn't this interview supposed to be about marketing?

Annette: Oh yeah. So here's my question. Can you tell me how to market my books?

Rob: I'm glad you brought this up, because this is something that has annoyed me for a really long time. Like, for years now.

Annette: What?

Rob: When you say "marketing", do you mean "advertising"?

Annette: Uh, duh. Of course.

Rob: Sometimes I hate this job. Here's the deal, sweetcheeks. Marketing is a whole heck of a lot more than advertising. In fact, there are four parts to marketing, and only one of them is advertising. And--guess what?--we authors tend to ignore the other parts. Maybe this is why our books sell lousy???

Annette: "Sell lousy" is bad grammar.

Rob: Your mom has bad grammar, Annette Lyon.

Annette: Zing!

Rob: Anyway, there are four parts to marketing. Think of them as the Four P's. Product, Price, Promotion, Positioning. Of those four things, Mrs. Lyon, which is advertising?

Annette: Promotion.

Rob: Yep. And of the remaining three, over which does the author have no control?

Annette: Price.

Rob: Correct as usual, King Friday. Generally, a publisher sets the price. The only exception to this is if the book is self-published. And if you're self-publishing a book, then you better know more about marketing than I can teach you in this blog.

Annette: How can you control Product? Isn't that, like, the cover? Doesn't the publisher generally pick the cover, and the title?

Rob: Yep. But Product is also the overall quality of the book. Is the grammar correct? Are there typos? Is the book fun to read, for crying out loud?

Annette: You know, you said that authors tend to ignore the other P's, but I think they do talk about Product. You know, in just about every blog/conference/how-to-write book?

Rob: Quit your sass, Lyon. Okay, you're right. Authors do focus on Product. I concede.

Annette: So what's positioning?

Rob: Positioning is actually the reason that I brought any of this up. I hereby declare that we authors don't ever think about Positioning.

Annette: Maybe that's because when we ask you what it is you don't tell us?

Rob: Possibly. Basically, Positioning is trying to figure out what need your book is going to fill. You should think about Positioning long before you ever write your book.

Annette: "What need your book is going to fill"? I'm not writing self-help books, Mr. Wells.

Rob: You need to figure out what you're offering that no one else is offering. You need to figure out why--of all the thousands of books on the shelf--the reader wants to choose yours.

Annette: Okay, so my position--my differentiation, if you will--is that my books are historicals about temples.

Rob: Perfect. You've done a really fabulous job of positioning your books, if I do say so myself. Your books are unique in the market.

Annette: You're making me blush.

Rob: HOWEVER. Here are some of the things that DO NOT QUALIFY as good positioning: "My book is a romance about real people with real problems". Annette, why is that not good positioning?

Annette: Because that could describe an entire genre, not just your book.

Rob: You learn so quickly, grasshopper. Another crappy positioning statement: "My book is a mystery, where the lead character is a cop."

Annette: Holy lame.

Rob: I assume by "holy lame" you mean that the author hasn't differentiated him or herself in any way.

Annette: Yes. Now wait a minute: there are a ton of non-unique books that sell like hotcakes. What about... those enormous shelves of romance novels that all have similar covers?

Rob: You spend a lot of time on that aisle, don't you?

Annette: Uh, yeah, because I like to see half-naked women.

Rob: ...

Annette: I was being sarcastic.

Rob: Ah yes. Anyway, you make a good point. Yes, there are books out there that sell quite a few copies without being unique. Two things, though: first, that doesn't appear to work in the LDS market (because those books sell because of total sales volume in the genre, which doesn't happen right now in the LDS market), and second, those books will never go anywhere. Sure, they'll sell moderately well for a year (or however long), but they can never be a breakaway hit.

Annette: I think I get it: if you position your book to be average, you'll get average sales in return.

Rob: Bing!

Annette: I feel so learned.

Rob: Now let's take a look at some of the specific big sellers in the LDS market and figure out what their positioning is. I'll quiz you: Chris Heimerdinger.

Annette: He writes time-travelling Book of Mormon stuff.

Rob: That was easy. Gerald Lund.

Annette: The Work and the Glory.

Rob: That's a title, not a positioning statement.

Annette: The Work and the Glory was the quintessential church history series. Sure, there'd been fictionalized church history books before that, but never on that scale.

Rob: You're a fine student. Anita Stansfield.

Annette: I... well... I'd say her work has shattered the stereotypes of romance novels with her trademark ability to combine great storytelling with intense psychological depth as she focuses on the emotional struggles of the human experience.

Rob: You Googled her website, didn't you?

Annette: Well, yes. But her case seems to be what we talked about before. She writes, as you said, romance about real people with real problems. So, how does she sell so many books if she has such a general position?

Rob: I'd posit that her actual position is: she's Anita Stansfield. She is unique because of consistency and volume. Anita Stansfield isn't so much an author's name, but a brand. People buy her books because it says "Anita Stansfield" on the cover, and they know what that means.
This is all possible because she was one of the first to hit the market. Even though her category seems broad now, when she first started writing she was differentiated. It was an untapped market, and she got in on the ground floor. And, of course, she has been consistent, and continually delivers what her customers want.

Annette: So positioning and differentiation isn't just about new, wacky ideas--it's just about finding a target audience whose needs are currently unfulfilled.

Rob: Yes.

Annette: That's probably harder than it sounds.

Rob: There you go again with your bellyaching. You know, you are a writer. You're supposed to be creative.

Annette: But you said I'm already differentiated! Score!

Rob: It's all the other authors who are suckers.

Annette: Yes. But we never got to discussing Promotion/Advertising.

Rob: Shut up, Annette Lyon. The point is: you shouldn't even THINK about promotion until you've written a well-positioned book.
Here's something fun, if you're interested in positioning, fill out this positioning statement:

For the reader who wants _______________, my book is a (genre) that offers ______________________. Unlike other books in my genre, my book provides __________________________________.

Annette: This is an awfully long blog today. And weren't you supposed to be interviewing me? This has been more like Ask Mr. Wizard.

Rob: Well, if you want to call me that, I won't argue.

Annette: I didn't mean that as a compliment.

Rob: Shut up, Annette Lyon. And goodnight everybody!

(Many thanks to Annette Lyon and her being a good sport. Go buy her book. Do it NOW.)

Monday, November 05, 2007

namRdo Stuff

I find myself on the road once again—or should I say still. Buffalo is lovely, but I think it would be even lovelier in say late April through early September. I think my salespeople just like to torture me.

That being the case, I don’t have time for one complete coherent blog. So I thought I’d try a couple of short nuggets of (hopefully) semi-coherent thought.

Thought 1—It is the end of the 2006-2007 NBA season. You are the Boston Celtics and you were pathetic. Some say you even tanked the second half of the season to get a good draft pick. You ended up with the second worst record in the NBA. Fortunately for you, there are two elite players coming out of college. Two players so good they could change the direction of your team for years to come. All you need is for the ping-pong balls to place you number one or number two. And since your record was so bad you have more ping-pong balls, by far, than any other team except the Grizzlies.

But a funny thing happens on the way to the draft. You don’t end up number 1. You don’t end up number 2. You end up number 5! Despite the odds being so far in your favor, you won’t get either of the top two players. Your season is ruined right? But let’s fast forward several months to the start of the next season. Turns out the number 1 pick—the one you REALLY wanted—had knee surgery and will miss the entire year. Had you landed the first ping-pong ball, you’d be right back where you started.

But because you didn’t get the first pick, you traded the number five pick and some other odds and ends for an all star guard by the name of Ray Allen. Then you magically ended up with possibly with one the top fifty players of all time. An all star power forward by the name of Kevin Garnett. This in addition to your own all star, Paul Pierce. And suddenly you are picked by many to go from worst to first in the East. Funny how things work out huh?

How many times do you think everything has ended up in a total failure because of a choice you made or even something beyond your control only to look back later and see how it was exactly what you needed to reach the spot where you are? Several years ago I failed to sell my national horror novel despite landing an awesome agent. I wonder if I’d still have a YA fantasy coming out with Shadow Mountain (which will probably sell ten times what my horror novel would have sold) if I’d published that horror novel.

Thought 2—This actually isn’t a thought but answers to a couple of questions from my friend Jon. (Saving me an extra e-mail response.)

Jon: First, let me congratulate you on your honorable mention on LDSP's opening paragraph content - yours was my favorite, without me even knowing it was yours. =) Pretty sure the one that mentioned the SASE was yours, too.
Me: Thanks. I love LDSPUb’s contests and how can you resist scary stories? If only there had been smores. The SASE one wasn’t mine. I don’t believe in SASEs.
Jon: Second, were you supposed to send some stuff out to the class yet?
Me: Yes
Jon: Third (and my real question), do you have any opinions/reviews of electronic writing aids? I can't remember now where I saw it, but there was something I saw that was basically a keyboard with a tiny LCD screen that you could edit maybe one line of text at a time. I've certainly considered getting a little voice recorder to dictate thoughts while driving. My latest thing is just to jot down a skeleton of ideas for my next chapter then flesh it out when I sit down to the computer. I don't own a laptop, but it's certainly something I'm considering.
Me: You are probably referring to the Alphasmart products. Although I haven’t personally used them, I know several people who read this blog regularly who swear by them. The cool thing about them is that unlike laptops they can run for days on a single set of batteries, they don’t require any boot-up time, so you can turn them off and on in an instant, and they have a full-size keyboard built in. You can also download your work to your PC or Apple any time you want. If you do a lot of writing on the go, they are a must.
Jon: I just found my first chapter that I had sent to a couple of people (major infodump!) and realized I've only put 3 chapters together in 6 months! So, I need to work harder AND smarter. Any thoughts? Feel free to use it in a blog. =P
Me: In my opinion, you can not write a quality book if you don’t feed and nourish it close to daily. The longer you go without writing the story, the less urgent and real it becomes in your mind until it fades completely away. Good writing requires immediacy, the story must fill your mind and soul, you must think about it before you fall asleep and when you first wake up. That doesn’t happen when you don’t write for weeks or months at a time. If you let your book slide for six months in usually means you started before you had the whole story in your head or you were never completely sold on the story. Either set a deadline for yourself and stick to it, or wait after you get that first idea. Let it formulate in your mind, adding pieces and characters and plot points, until you absolutely have to give birth to it. Then write every spare second you get. Keep the story alive but working on it all the time. Breathe life into it by writing. The longer you go away from it, the more like it will suffocate.

And don’t send out the first three chapters! That is the kiss of death. Write then darn thing for better or worse; then send it out to everyone and their brother if you want.
Jon: Fourth (oh, why not?), if you were looking to categorize your Job book, how about inspirational fiction? My mom is always sending me this stuff for Christmas - like tales of dogs that have rescued their owner (fiction and non-fiction) By the way, I have friends who are convinced Job was not a real person, that the book is more like a play than a historical account, what with all the dialoguing between God and Satan.

Me: That probably is the genre I would have chosen for Into the Fire had it been published nationally. But since it was published in the LDS market, that really doesn’t say much about it since most LDS fiction is inspirational by definition. Of course then there are the stories of the dogs that eat their owners, but is another genre altogether.

As far as whether the story of Job is real or fictional, no one knows for sure. But here is my take on it. When Joseph Smith was in the Liberty jail and asking Heavenly Father for help, God answered that he was not yet as bad off as Job. Would a loving Father have answered that way if Job were a fictional character? Listen Jon, I know things have been going badly for you, but at least your life isn’t as bad Captain Kirk in Star Trek Episode 12 when he almost got eaten by that giant snail, eh?

That being said, there is no question that the story of Job is written in a fictional style. There is clearly an introduction, or prologue if you will. (I know, Chapter 1) There is an epilogue. There is a climax. There are even chapters or scenes if you know what you are looking for. But just because Will Smith played a character in Pursuit of Happiness does not mean that it wasn’t based on a true story.

I think people get thrown by the whole “bet” thing. God would never place a bet with Satan over a soul would He? My take on that is: Yes He did. Satan wanted us to be forced to do what was right in this life. He didn’t think we would voluntarily choose to be Christ-like. God believed so strongly that we would choose the right that he sent us down to be tried and tempted by the very person who didn’t think we could make it. Sounds a lot like a wager to me. If we prove God right we return to live with him. If we don’t, Satan wins that bet.

Thought 3: Rob, when are you going to do another interview? I haven’t spewed milk out of my nose in a couple of weeks.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Being a Bookworm

by Sariah S. Wilson

I have become a bookworm.

Some of you may not know what that means, but my publisher has a mailing list (go here to sign up if you'd like) and every month they spotlight a new release.

This month it was my turn with "Desire of Our Hearts."

So I thought I'd share the question and answer portion of that newsletter (regular readers of the blog will find much of it familiar, but by doing this I do not have to come up with a new blog idea today. Laziness will always win.) A special thank you to Annette Lyon for her great suggestions that helped to shape these Q&As.

Can you tell us a little bit about Desire of Our Hearts?

It is a speculative fiction/romance novel based on the life of Alma the Elder. Alma falls in love at first sight with a woman who despises all of the priests and King Noah, but the king forces this woman (Sam, the heroine) to marry Alma. You can imagine that things do not go well. The novel follows not only their relationship, but what is happening to Alma in the king’s court. Sam is a believer, which is forbidden by King Noah. She causes Alma to question his beliefs, setting the stage so that Alma is prepared to receive Abinadi’s message. And of course there is a power-hungry villain, the priest Amulon, who is desperate not only to ruin Alma’s marriage, but to remove Alma from power by any means necessary. There’s lots of action and adventure alongside romantic and tender moments. And there’s a very hot chili pepper involved. And the scent of vanilla. And a dog.

How did you come up with the idea for this book?

I know exactly when it happened—the last week of December, 2005. How do I know that’s when it was? Well, being the procrastinator that I am, I was trying to finish the Book of Mormon before the official end of the year (for President Hinckley’s challenge). I had just sold my first novel, Secrets in Zarahemla, and the publisher wanted me to, you know, write more books for them. I didn’t know how I would write another, as I didn’t have any ideas for any more books about the Book of Mormon. So, I would very much like to say that while I read my scriptures, I had a spiritual or inspirational moment as I went through the story of Alma the Elder. But the picture that appeared in my head was neither of those things. Instead I saw Alma’s wife throwing things at him on their wedding night. I built the story from there.

Speaking of Secrets in Zarahemla, how does this second book differ from it?

It differs in a few respects. My first book focused primarily on fictional characters that were related to the real ones from the Book of Mormon. The new book is about real people from the scriptures. I discovered I love writing about them because I realized that *I* had always put people like Alma on a pedestal. But he was a real man who had temptations and fears and worries and weaknesses just like the rest of us. He wasn’t perfect, even after he converted and repented. From the scriptures I found Alma to be a very determined, very passionate sort of person, and I enjoyed exploring the personality I made up for him. Desire of Our Hearts also differs from Secrets in that it is much more of a romance. I love romance, I love happy endings, and that is the direction I would like to take my writing in, so expect to see more of it from me.

How much research do you typically do?

For my first novel, I did over a year’s worth of research. For this novel, I didn’t have to spend quite so much time researching, because I had already covered all of the basics. I did spend a lot of time studying weddings and courtship rituals among the Maya in the highlands of Guatemala, which is where the city of Lehi-Nephi would likely have been located. All the things that you read in the book regarding the wedding and the engagement are true, but because each tribe/city had their own variation on the customs, I tried to combine several aspects together into one cohesive ceremony. I also did a lot of research on wine production and on dogs.

What are you planning to work on next?

My publisher has already purchased my third Book of Mormon romance (also inspired by the mad rush of December, 2005) based on Ammon, which is a much lighter tale, as Ammon informed me that he was very funny and very charming. I hope to be able to write a story for each of Ammon’s brothers as well. There are also at least three couples from Desire of Our Hearts that have been begging for their own books (yes, my characters talk to me, and yes, I realize this makes me semi-crazy). But because I don’t want to get pigeonholed into only writing Book of Mormon fiction, my next book will be a historical romance set in the Regency, or the time period of Jane Austen’s novels. I’m not sure when it will be done, because my 5-month-old daughter has very strong opinions on what her mommy should be doing while she’s awake, and not one of them entails me doing any writing.

How can readers contact you?

They can visit my Web site to find out more information about me and upcoming books at, read my blog at, or contact me via email at I love to hear from readers!