Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Er . . . Um . . . Wanna Buy My Book?

I'm heading for the airport this afternoon for my trip to Utah for Women's Conference, so this is going to be a bloglet. I should have gotten a guest blogger for today, but did I think that far ahead? Of course not. Sigh.

I'll be doing a few book signings while I'm in Utah. Here's my schedule. Come visit me if you get a chance. Just look for the red-faced, nervous-looking person twiddling a bookmark into oblivion and babbling incoherent things like "It's, you know, a suspense story with, you know, scary things happening and stuff like that." Can you tell I'm a little nervous about the signings? Book promotion is not something that comes naturally to an introvert like me. I wish I had a personal publicist to accompany me on signings. The publicist would be charming, outgoing, gregarious, and have a marvelous ability to talk to anyone and relate to everyone. She would do all the chatting and promoting while I sat, content in my silent awkwardness, reading a Rob Wells novel. She would be so good at her work that people would swarm toward my table, and all I'd have to do is pick up a pen and say, "So is that Christy with a "C" or a "K"?

I know someone out there (Jeff) is thinking, "Get a grip, girl. You need to get out there and BE that outgoing publicist!" And I'm thinking, sure, all I need is a personality transplant.

So . . . how many authors out there thrive on doing face-to-face book promotion and how many of you get the promotional heebie-jeebies? And for those of you who started out in the latter camp but are now in the former, what's your secret?

Anyway . . . I've got to go put the laundry in the dryer, run some errands, make some phone calls, pack a suitcase . . .

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Priming Your Readers

by Robison Wells

Last week I read the most fascinating book I've read in years: Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely. Dr. Ariely is a behavioral economist at MIT. (If you're like me, you've never heard of behavioral economics ever in your whole life. Basically, it's a backwards approach to economics: rather than studying economics theory of how the market should work (such as supply and demand theory, etc), behavioral economics studies how people actually act: how the market does work.)

The title and subtitle of the book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, pretty much sums up behavioral economics. A huge portion of the decisions we make are based on weird quirks of the subconscious, not on logic, reason, or judgement.

An example: study after study indicates that we humans can't for the life of us logically determine the value of anything. In one study, participants wrote down the last two digits of their social security number, and put a dollar sign next to it. Then they were asked to compare that dollar amount to six products and determine if they'd pay that much for the item. So, for example, if your SS# ends in 75, then you'd compare $75 to six products: would you pay $75 for a bottle of wine? A trackball mouse? A box of Godiva chocolates? Participants were then asked to indicate the highest amount that they'd actually pay for the item. And the verdict: people with higher social security numbers were always willing to pay more! The reason is this: we can't judge value very well, so we rely on our first impressions as anchors, even if those first impressions are completely aribtrary. A person with a SS# of 75 might say "I won't pay $75 for that trackball mouse, but I'd pay $60", while someone with a SS# of 15 would say "$15 is probably too low for that trackball mouse, but I'd pay $30." The study was performed over hundreds of intelligent people--students at MIT, Harvard, Stanford and Yale!--and the results was always the same: we have a terrible time determining values.

Quite honestly, you should just read the whole dang book, because every chapter is more fascinating than the one before it. Dozens of times throughout the week I found myself hurrying into the other room to read bits to my wife, and I think I've talked about it with everyone in my neighborhood.

While the book is all great, there was a section toward the end that got me thinking about writing. (Yes, I know that I never actually talk about writing on this writing blog. But now I'm going to.)

There is a technique in psychological experimentation called Priming. Priming, basically, is a process of introducing ideas subconciously to a person, and then seeing how they respond.

In one experiment, researchers looked at the effect of stereotypes on Asian American women. There is a stereotype that women aren't very good at math, but there is also a stereotype that Asians are really good at math. So, the researchers gave a math test to a large group of Asian American women; they had exactly the same math problems, but half of the tests began with questions about race issues (such as "What languages are spoken in your home?" and "How long has your family lived in the United States?") and the other half of the tests began with questions related to gender ("How do you feel about coed dorms?", etc). And guess what the researchers found? When Asian American women were reminded that they were Asian-American, they did well on the math test. And when they were reminded that they were women, they did significantly worse. They were being subconsiously "primed" to meet a stereotype, and their behavior on the test fulfilled their expectations.

Another priming experiment: two groups of people were given a jumble of words they were supposed to unscramble. For one group, these words were negative: "aggressive", "rude", "annoying", "intrusive". For the other group, the words were positive: "honor", "considerate", "polite", "sensitive". The participants thought they were just unscrambling words, but really they were being primed positively or negatively. When they had finished, they went into the next room, where they had been told to get instructions from another researcher. However, the researcher (actually an actor) was busy, trying to explain a complex thought to another researcher/actor. The real experiment had nothing to do with how fast these partipants finished the word unscrambling, but how quickly they interrupt the researchers. And, not surprisingly, those who had been primed with negative words were much faster to interrupt: they did so after about 5.5 minutes, whereas the positively primed people waited an average of 9.3 minutes.

One last example: This last experiment is the one that is most interesting to me, and the one that made me connect priming to writing. A group of undergraduate students at NYU were primed (using the same unscrambling technique) with words related to the elderly: "bingo", "Florida", "ancient", etc. (A second, control group was primed with general, neutral words.) When the people finished unscrambling and returned their papers to the researchers, they were told they were done. They left the room and headed down the hall. But this is where the real experiment started. The people who had been primed with elderly words walked significantly slower down the hallway than those who had the neutral words! And these were 20-year-old kids!

So, writing. The third book I wrote (which hasn't been published) was about a group of people stranded in the barren deserts of New Mexico. When I finished it, I sent it out to readers to get feedback. One of the comments I got, which I don't think I ever understood until now, was that someone said the book made them thirsty. Now, it's not like I've done a study to see if the reader actually got thirsty, simply because they read words like "parched" and "dry" and "cracked" and "dessicated". But, if "bingo" and "Florida" can make a person walk slower--to act elderly--why couldn't my words actually make someone want a drink of water?

It's given me new drive with my writing. If words really do have this much subconscious power--and overwhelming evidence suggests that they do--think of how we can further enhance the reading experience! Priming is essentially evoking mood, and I know that many authors are already doing this very well, whether or not they're aware of the psychological basis for it. But I know that I can do better. I'm excited to try.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Jewel of a Woman

Several years ago, I met a woman who immediately struck me as one of those people who is beautiful both inside and outside. As I got to know her better, that impression only grew. There are people who go through so much that you wonder how God could be so cruel. Until you realize that are such choice spirits that they manage to turn every stumbling block not only into a stepping stone, but into a bridge for others to cross the rivers life throws at us right along with her.

Jewel Adams is a jewel in every respect. You can't spend any time around her at all without seeing the radiance. A little over a month ago, she sent me a manuscript to blurb for her. As I began to read, two things became apparent. The writing was almost poetic in its beauty and pacing, and the story felt much more personal than other novels I had recently read. I was happy to give her a glowing review, and now I'm happy to let the rest of you meet her (although I know many of you already have.)

By the way, this is an actual interview. It took place over the internet, not in a scenic grotto somewhere in Europe, while eating unpronounceable food.

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you become a writer, what books have you written, etc?

I'm originally from Asheville, NC. I moved to Utah in August of 1989 and this has been home ever since. I'm a stay-at-home mother of eight, and with five still at home, writing is sometimes a challenge, so when I'm working on a project, I'm pretty much a night owl.

Growing up in the situation I did, my mind was always working. My home was one of abuse, so I was always imagining myself somewhere, anywhere but there. Eventually, I was able to get some of my feelings down on paper. I started writing poetry in high school, despite language being my worst and least favorite subject. At that time, I never thought I would write a book, but when I moved to Utah, I met another author who kind of gave me the bug. My first romance novel, "Elise's Heart," was published in 1998 and that was the beginning of a great love for me. Since then I've had five more novels published. "A Heart That Endures," "Dreams of Venice," "Dreams and Blessings," "Mercedes' Mountain," and "Against the Odds." All are romance novels. Four of those are now ebooks on my website. Oh, and now language is my favorite subject:o)

I loved reading your latest book. Tell us a little bit about it.

My new book is called "The Journey," and it's the kind of book I never expected to write. It's a YA romantic fantasy about how important choice is. The setting is a world similar to ours only in a different time. It is about a young woman who is required to leave her home for a time and go on a journey of discovery. She encounters both good and evil along the way. I can't really say more without giving some of the story away, but suffice it to say, nothing can prepare her for the opposition she encounters. The story teaches that there is a consequence for every choice we make, but at the same time it teaches that agency is a gift.

What inspired you to write a fantasy?

Well, I hadn't written a YA novel since A Heart That Endures and I felt it was time. No, correction, God let me know it was time. I thought things were tough when I was a teenager, but the youth today face things that just blow me away at times. I would never want to be a teenager in today's world. I don't think I could handle it. That being said, I know the youth are into fantasy big time these days and that was one of the reasons I wrote this novel. But the main reason was one that hits closer to home. We have a teenager dealing with some very painful issues, and one of those issues in particular, is being brought on by her choices. She is very much into fantasy and I thought what better way to reach the youth than share my thoughts and hopes for them through something they love?

All books have some personal connection to the author, but how does it affect your writing process when a book is more personal than normal?

You know, in some ways it's easier to write because you have so many thoughts churning in your mind that you just have to get them down on paper, but at the same time, you don't want to say so much that you make your reader go, "Whoa, boy is she gone." I've seen that bubble pop up many times in each of my teenager's mind from time to time. It's that "Mom's on one today" bubble :o) I have to remind myself that I want to grab my reader, not scare them away.

This is the fifth book that you've self published. Why?

Sometimes I get a story in my head that I feel so strongly about, I think it's worth putting the money behind it. Of all the books I've self-published, this is the most important one to me.

Since you've also published other books traditionally, how does this compare? What have you learned?

Oh, my goodness, this whole publishing thing has been one big learning process. I've really come to love self-publishing because it gives me so much more control. Of course, it's more work, but not too much more than having books published traditionally. The biggest difference is money, so if you're going to self-publish, you need to really believe your book, and, depending on how far you want to take it, have a good marketing plan in place. I've created my own publishing house this time, so it has truly turned into a business for me now.

What do you get out of writing?

I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes when I've finished a book. I love lifting the spirits of others, making people laugh or cry, or think. Plus, it's always fun to escape to the world of one of my characters for a bit and zone the kids out when they get a little too crazy, which happens often:o)

What advice do you have for other writers?

I meet so many people at signings who say they are writing or want to write a book, and I always tell them to go for it. My mother was an alcoholic until right before she died at 49. She was an extremely talented person. She was a singer, writer, painter, and guitarist, and she always talked about how she would like to write a book, but she never did. So, if that's your dream, then do it. You have nothing to lose, and you learn and grow through the whole process. Also, joining a great writers group like, say, the Storymakers is a great move as well.

What's next?

Well, right now I'm working on the second book in the Journey series and it is coming along pretty well. This story will continue to stress the importance of choice, but it will be more about change and how change within ourselves can affect the world.

What do you think of Rob Wells?

He's a sad, strange, little man.
(I didn't actually get a chance to ask Jewel that last question. But I can only assume that is how she would have answered.)
You can read more about Jewel and her books at

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Climbing up Mt. Doom

by Sariah S. Wilson

I caught a bit of "Lord of the Rings" on TBS the other night, so I decided to go through my six disk extended version to watch my favorite parts. My sons wandered in and out to watch some of the movie - they were bored by all the talking and wanted to see the action. I did a lot of making the 5-year-old cover his eyes because he's easily spooked and speeding through the too scary parts and too violent parts (of which there are suprisingly quite a bit).

But as I pulled out the last disk to watch the epic final battle (with one of the best movie lines ever - "That still only counts as one!") and Sam and Frodo's journey to Mt. Doom, I was touched and teary-eyed, as I always am, by the ascent up the mountain.

Here, at the end of all things, you'd almost think that it would be a quick run up the mountain with adrenaline and excitement. They were nearly there and had almost completed their quest. But they are thirsty. Tired. Hungry. They have survived the unimaginable and against all odds stand at the base of the mountain. The burden of the ring has become more than Frodo can bear. He starts to hallucinate, has chafing marks on his neck as the ring becomes heavier, and can barely put one large Hobbit foot in front of the other.

I had an experience at a dinner once with another LDS couple. I saw from their bookshelf that they were Harry Potter fans, and with this being shortly after the last release, I engaged them in a conversation about it. [If you still haven't read it, then don't read the next few sentences. But I'm guessing that even if you haven't read it yet you have a pretty good idea of what happens in the last HP book.] One of the things I pointed out was the Christ imagery of Harry laying down his life for his friends, and then coming back to life. I loved how reading it reminded me of the Savior, that through fiction I could re-appreciate a real life event. The reaction to this was, shall we say, not favorable. I tried explaining it further - I wasn't basing my testimony on HP, but that reading a fictional recreation of something I know to be true made me think on the true event and feel gratitude for it. (I was vindicated later that week when I came across this article in Newsweek, which pointed out the obvious Christ allegory as well. So I knew I wasn't just crazy. Which is always nice to find out.)

I have chosen to believe the D&C, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young that there is truth in the world to be had and incorporated as part of our faith that is from the secular world. That it can even come from fiction.

Or from a movie. I thought today of the times in my life when I have felt like Frodo. Like I have given all there is to give. I literally have nothing left, but yet I am expected to keep going. I have to find a way up the mountain when I can't even contemplate taking the first step. I know I'll never claw my way up because my body and my spirit have decided I'm done.

And I know what it's like when someone steps in and tells me, "I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you!" and lifts me on my way, helps me to take those steps and keeps me on the right path.

It never fails to bring tears to my eyes when I watch that scene. Not only for the friendship that Sam and Frodo share, not only for my own personal experiences of friends and family who have helped me, but for the Christ imagery I see. How Christ carries us as we carry our impossible burdens, sometimes when we can't even see it and didn't even know that he was there. Times that we may have felt incredibly alone and didn't realize that we were being lifted and loved to the point that we somehow found the strength to continue on our own.

I came across a post wondering whether fiction is inherently immoral, and I can't begin to imagine that it is. It's not a "lie" to me when it reinforces the truths I already know, and perhaps makes me feel them or understand them in a way that I hadn't before.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Life Is a Highway

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Last week we had the opportunity as a family to take ten days and drive out to visit church historical sites like Independence, Missouri and Nauvoo Illinois. So my husband packed his pregnant wife (me) and our six children into a mini-van and away we went. (I think he is an incredibly brave man, don’t you?)

Since it is such a long drive out there, we took the opportunity to stop at other sites as well to break things up. We stopped at the Dwight D. Eisenhower presidential museum, Harry S. Truman presidential museum, Mark Twain museum, and John Wayne museum. That is in addition to the church history sites of Independence, Liberty, Far West, Gallatin, Adam-ondi-Ahman, Nauvoo, Carthage, Kanesville and Winter Quarters. So we had a very busy ten days.

I learned a lot of interesting things along the way and I’d like to share some of them with you today.

  • No matter how prepared you think you are, the children will use every activity you’ve brought in the first hour and tell you they’re bored the rest of the time that you’re driving.

  • When boys are bored, they like to bug other people, but especially their sister. They seem to really like hearing the girly squeal or the standard wail of, "Mooooooom!"

  • After spending so much time with her five brothers, my daughter informed me that she now believes boys are gross and she hopes she has mostly daughters when she grows up.

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower had a family picture on the wall of his small childhood home and one of his brothers looks like a girl. Seriously.

  • Harry S. Truman wrote over a thousand love letters to his wife. He really seemed to be a huge romantic and was apparently a very loving man to his wife when he was courting her as well as after they were married.

  • When she was a new first lady, Mrs. Truman was asked to break a bottle over a new ship to christen it. The bottle hadn’t been primed and so when she tapped it on the ship the first time, nothing happened. She hit the ship with it a few more times, but nothing happened. So then she took the bottle in her hand like it was a club and whacked it on the ship, but nothing happened. Finally, a young military officer behind her, who looked like he had some muscles, took a stab at it. Nothing happened for him, either. Someone finally went and got another bottle that was prepared and the ship was properly christened, but the video in the library of the event was really funny to watch.

  • Mark Twain used a lot of his childhood experiences in his writing. He actually did see a dead body after he had skipped school and was hiding out in his father’s office. They had put the murdered man (who had been stabbed to death) in there for safekeeping while the investigation was done. They had a re-creation of it for visitors to his museum, including a gory looking corpse for everyone to see. (Ick!)

  • I got to see the typewriter Mark Twain wrote on, as well as his desk. He also claimed to have been the first author to have submitted a manuscript that was entirely typewritten.

  • John Wayne’s real name was Marion. When his mother went into labor, they had to call a doctor and when the doctor arrived, they could see immediately what the problem was. It was such a difficult labor because the baby was thirteen pounds when he was born! John got the nickname of Duke because he used to walk his dog Duke by a fire station and the men would see them, but they never knew the boy’s name, only the dog’s name. So they started calling out to the dog Duke and Duke’s boy, and finally the nickname of Duke for John Wayne just stuck. We got to see an eye patch that John Wayne used in the movie True Grit and there was a teeny hole cut into it so he could still see!

  • Lots of people aren’t used to seeing a large family. We got asked several times if we were all one family. At the John Wayne museum, when we walked in, there was a man watching us come through the door. He stopped and said, "Are y’all from the same tour?" My son just said yes, sort of getting used to all the questions we were getting asked about the size of our family, and the man craned his neck out toward the window and said, "Where’d you park your tour bus?" (Our mini-van was right out front, so that made me chuckle.)

  • When we went to the Lands and Offices building in Nauvoo, Illinois to see where our ancestors’ property would have been, we were surprised to find out that my husband’s pioneer ancestors and my pioneer ancestors were next door neighbors. Chances are they would have known each other very well. Which made me smile.

  • In Nebraska, we stopped at a small restaurant that was adjacent to a gas station. When we walked in, we could quickly see that there was only one woman running the gas station and the restaurant. At first, that didn’t seem to be a problem, but when she started making our food, then took care of a gas station customer before returning to prepare our food without washing her hands or wearing gloves, I almost lost my appetite. I casually struck up a conversation about how busy she looked and we talked for a bit before I told her my son who works in a food handling environment was required by law to wear gloves and how strange it was that that wasn’t the law in Nebraska. She eventually did put on a glove, but when she was done with our food, she took it off. Before we left I watched her handle raw chicken, then, without washing her hands, make another customer’s sandwich. I was very glad to go and thankful that none of us seemed to suffer from anything adverse because of eating there.

  • There are still a lot of misconceptions about Mormons. While my oldest son was standing by our van with Utah plates, a group of boys in the back of a truck roared up to him and yelled, "We have five wives, too!" before quickly driving away. I guess they didn’t know that the LDS church hasn’t practiced polygamy in well over a century.

I think the best experience of all was standing with my family while we saw and stood on the grounds of places that Joseph Smith, Emma Smith, Sarah Granger Kimball, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff had stood on. We saw the jails that Joseph was imprisoned in while falsely accused and we stood in the room where Hyrum died and next to the well where Joseph had died. We walked the trail that our ancestors walked when they left Nauvoo and we stood on the edge of the Mississippi river, feeling how sad they must have felt to leave their beloved temple and the city they had built and sacrificed for behind. It was an amazing and poignant moment.

It really was a wonderful trip, one that I’ll not soon forget—partly because of the places we saw, but mostly because of the time we spent together as a family. Now that is priceless.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I really was going to blog today. And there I was this morning, working on my blog when, wham! I got a migraine. This was a bit surprising, since I haven't had a migraine in--yay!--over a year. I even have a prescription that I hadn't tried yet. So I hurried to take one of the tablets and waited for the magic. It turned out to be sort of medium-magical. I still felt like garbage on a plate (not to be confused with a garbage plate, which any resident of Rochester, NY will recognize), but I didn't feel nearly as horrible as I would have without the medicine. Maybe I need a stronger dose (mine is the medium-strength tablet). I was still wiped out for a good portion of the day. I'm feeling much better now, but it's quarter to four and I've hardly done a thing today, so I'm thinking my blog will consist of me saying--Hooray! This hooray is in honor of the fact that Fool Me Twice has gotten some great reviews. I got one from the AML--woohoo! And here are three more:
Inksplasher Blog

Meridian Magazine

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

No More Pencils, No More Books

I took my last final this morning.

Holy crap. Can you believe that the first year of school is over? I remember very vividly when I decided to go back for an MBA (I blogged about it on this very website), and it really doesn't seem all that long ago. And then school started, and I blogged about it on this very website. And now the first year is over. Holy freakin' camoley.

That said, it's not like school has really passed quickly overall. If you think about it, I just turned thirty, which means that I started school TWENTY FIVE YEARS AGO. And I'm still here. Granted, there was a two year break for my mission, and there was about four years between my my undergrad degree and my masters. But still, that means I'm in the nineteenth grade. Remember kids: stay in school! Forever!

Grad school has really been awesome, though. I've learned a lot, and I've met a lot of great people, and I've worked harder and slept less than I ever imagined.

I've also been able to work on some really interesting consulting projects. For example, if you've been browsing the news today, you might have seen a study about national happiness. That press release (and a follow-up release tomorrow) is the culmination of a national study done by me and three of my fellow students. We've been all over the internet today (such as here, here and here). The second press release, which is more interesting, is expected to be picked up by Reuters and the Washington Post. So, kinda neat.

I also made a marketing proposal to Hogi Yogi when they launched their new tart yogurt a few months ago (following the Red Mango trend). Unfortunately, my idea didn't get selected, even though it was awesome. (They went with Yoasis. And the yogurt is surprisingly tasty. And I get it for free.)

And I did a really fascinating study of brand perceptions for Calle, a fast-growing street soccer company. We used a relatively new market research technique, which is based on the idea that people think not in words but in images and deep-rooted metaphors. It was very cool.

And, in case I haven't ever mentioned it here before, this summer I'll be working in scenic Minneapolis, Minnesota, as a brand management intern for ConAgra Foods. I'll be in their snack food division, which includes awesome things like Orville Redenbacher popcorn, Crunch n' Munch and Slim Jims. I hope to share a cubicle with Macho Man Randy Savage.

Anyway, the good news is that I don't have to report to ConAgra until June 2nd, which gives me a good month of full-time writing. I'm hoping to pound out the second half of my half-finished book. We'll see if I can muster up the motivation to work during my vacation. With any luck, I'll actually be a legitimate author again, rather than just some guy who used to write books.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Starting at the Best Part

by Sariah S. Wilson

I think the way that people write is such a personal thing. Stephanie recently discussed the way that she writes. I've actually tried to write that way. I've heard so many authors say that it's much more organic, that they don't know the story until they've written it, things like that. I have had plot twists occur to me that I didn't start out with and I do like when the story suddenly presents a surprise I hadn't ever considered.

But I just can't do it. I have to go back. I have to rewrite what I've already written, get it perfect, before I move on. I wish I wasn't like that. It makes it much easier in the end, but I think it takes me longer to get to the end than it does other writers.

I also have to write chronologically. I haven't tried to write any other way, which is the point of this particular blog. I read once that when Stephenie Meyer started "Twilight" she wrote her favorite parts first and then tied them all together.

I'm considering doing that. I often get flashes of scenes where I write down the dialogue by hand and then when I organize the story before I begin writing, I insert that brainstorming into the appropriate upcoming chapter (and I can't tell you how much I love coming to a chapter where I have pages and pages of dialogue all ready to go. It practically writes itself).

But I wonder if I write the best parts first, the scenes I'm most excited about, if that will take away the joy of writing the entire book. Part of the reason you get through a necessary chapter or scene is because you know that after a few more pages THAT scene is coming, the one you've been dying to write since you first thought of the book. For me, it's sort of like a small reward for putting in the time it took to get to that point. Sort of like working out and rewarding yourself with Graeter's ice cream.

Or will it be the opposite? Will I be so excited by writing the scenes I desperately want to write first that I will be thrilled to write the bridges that connect them?

I've also wondered if it will make the book seem disjointed and not flow as easily because of the stop/start nature.

Have you ever started a novel by writing out the best scenes first? What was your experience with it?

And for our contest...Rebecca Talley is our winner! Rebecca, I got your email from your Blogger ID and I'll be sending you an email to get your pick. Congratulations, and thanks to everyone for entering!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Madeleine L'Engle & Julie Wright

Julie Wright is one of my favorite writers. Also one of my favorite people. Whenever I feel a little blue, I go to her website and am immediately lost in the wonder of all things Jules. While I love everything on her website and blog, this post about another of my heroes, Madeleine L’Engle, took my breath away. I’m sharing it here today with her permission.

Madeleine L'Engle and Me

by Julie Wright
I bought the book A Circle of Quiet just after my booksigning at the BYU symposium. It was on sale, and I can’t turn down a sale. I love to tell Scott how much money I save him. Besides, I loved reading A Wrinkle in Time when I was in fourth grade and was happy to read more about her.

I have shed many a tear since then. Madeleine and I have quite a bit in common. We’re both neurotic writers. We’re both mothers trying to juggle writing careers while dealing with the tsk tsks from other mothers who have it all together when we don’t. We both own grocery stores in small communities. We both married men who loved acting. We’ve been dealt the stinging blow of rejection and have come back screaming, “Is that all you got?”

Okay so maybe neither of us came back screaming for more, but we did come back . . . isn’t that the important thing?

I hate how I’ve discovered how much I love this woman only after it was too late to ever meet her. Madeleine died last September. I would love to give her a hug and say, “Thanks for understanding my very weird life.”

Something that struck me as utterly profound was this statement she made after a rejection she received on her fortieth birthday. This was after her years in the thirties, which were filled with endless manuscript rejections and incredible guilt for taking time to write books when she worried she might be better occupied to learn to make cherry pie and do as other–more proper–mothers do. She decided to, “Stop this foolishness and learn to make cherry pie.”

She covered her typewriter in what she refers to as a great gesture of renunciation and walked around and around her room bawling, totally, utterly miserable.

While pacing and bawling, she stopped, realizing her subconscious mind had already begun working out a novel about failure.

She uncovered her typewriter.

This was her moment of decision. This was her moment where she realized she WAS a writer, no matter what, even if she never had another book published.

A quote from her on this matter is, “I’m glad I made this decision in the moment of failure. It’s easy to say you’re a writer when things are going well.”

I mourn the fact I never got to hug her.

There have been several rocky years where I was faced with the very real possibility that I would never see my name on a future publication. There was a time when I covered my computer, and said, “Stop this foolishness and learn to make pie.” Okay, maybe I never said I’d learn to make pie, but there are so many ways I fall short of other women because I have split my life into other things. I would stop the foolishness of writing, and be like other moms.

I uncovered my computer.

I, too, am glad to have made this decision in my moments of failure. And now with another book coming out, quite possibly two, I wonder that I even considered it. There is no such thing as second child infertility with novel writing. If you can write one . . . you can write two, and more. If you can make the choice to keep writing amidst rejection and failure, then you’ve proved something important–to you and to the world, but most importantly to you.

You proved you really are a writer.

While Julie Wright has already proved that she really is one of the most gifted writers in this dispensation (My Not-So Fairy-Tale Life, To Catch a Falling Star, Loved Like That), she’s about to prove it again with a new release coming out this fall. You can catch a sneak preview of Seeking Zion and The Day My Subconscious Betrayed Me and two more on her website. (Lucky you.) It is right here. At least I hope it is. If it isn’t, it’s at www dot Julie Wright dot com. Go now. You can thank me (profusely) later.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Guest Blogger---Traci Hunter Abramson

I am so thrilled to be able to introduce you to one of my favorite authors--Traci Hunter Abramson. Her new book is titled Freefall and it is well worth the read.

Like many authors, I live in a fictional world as often as not. A few weeks ago, my reality was strange enough that I was beginning to wonder if reality and fiction had somehow crossed paths.

At the end of March, I had the opportunity to visit Arizona for my sister’s wedding and to do a couple of book signings. I walked into the Seagull Books in Mesa and was completely shocked to find a couple of people waiting to meet me. My response was an incredulous, “You’re waiting to see me?” Sure, I had hoped people might be interested in my new book, but I never expected anyone to make a special trip to come to my signing. After all, I’m just a normal, everyday person.

Throughout the morning I was treated like royalty by the staff. I had the added bonus of meeting the incredibly talented Kerry Blair who was also there to sign books. I was having so much fun, I stayed longer than I had planned and barely allowed myself enough to time to make it to my next scheduled appearance.

My second signing was overwhelming in a different way. I walked into the Chandler Deseret Bookstore to find the front shelves completely dominated by my four books and a woman was standing next to the display holding a copy of my latest novel. A little further into the store there was a six-foot-tall poster of Freefall hanging behind the table where my signing would take place.

Again the staff was wonderful and I had a lot of fun meeting them and the people who came into the store. At one point, a woman approached the table and pointed to my first novel, Undercurrents, and said, “I just finished reading this. I loved it!” Talk about making my day…again!

After my two signings, I then went to my step-sister’s wedding and was surprised to have many long time family friends approach and ask me to tell them about my new book. Little did I know at the time that my step-dad had been reading Freefall to keep him distracted before the wedding and he had been raving to everyone about it. Now, I realize that parents are always a bit biased, but I’ll admit that it was great hearing how much he was enjoying my book. By the end of the day I had received so much attention my head was spinning.

You see, here in Virginia, I’m not well known as an author. In fact, a lot more people recognize me as a high school swim coach than as a writer so it’s difficult to know what to answer when someone asks me what I do for a living.

Try to imagine for a moment what it’s like to be in my shoes. (I wear sandals all of the time, so they’ll fit most of you.) My previous profession was working for the CIA. When I admit this, most people wonder if I’m telling the truth or just pulling their leg, especially when I get very far away from the nation’s capital. Then when it comes up in conversation that I’m a published author, they think I truly do live in a fictional world, but not necessarily a published version of one. Throw swim coach into the equation and people realize that I’m probably never going to grow up. Then we have the profession that lasts throughout the entire year: housewife. I probably shouldn’t admit that I’m really bad at this one, although if you want to see my “reasons not to clean list” they can be found here.

Knowing that my real life is nothing like the one I had lived on my sister’s wedding day, I did the only thing I could do. I brought home the huge poster from Deseret Book so my family would believe that I wasn’t living in my fictional world…again.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Ride of Rewriting

by Stephanie Black

Yay and hooray, I’ve finished the first draft of my new suspense novel. It doesn’t have a working title yet. Maybe one will come to me as I work on the second draft, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. Last time around I could not come up with a single working title that I loved (even after jotting down endless lists of possibilities, hoping something would spark), so I submitted the book under a generic yawner of a title. Thank heavens Covenant has an expert team of title-maker-uppers, because I think Fool Me Twice is a rockin’ good title and perfect for the novel. I have great faith that they can think up a fantastic title for my next book, even if I submit it as Creepy Suspense Story III: Rob’s Revenge.

My new manuscript is a very rough first draft—when I say “rough” I mean “completely incoherent,” but that’s what happens when you change critical backstory partway through a draft and don’t go back to make it consistent. I like to get to the end of a draft before I go back and make big changes. If I were to keep jumping backward to fix what I’ve already written, I’d not only slow my forward progress, but would possibly end up fixing things that would need to be fixed again once I reached the final pages and realized I’d made a mistake when I changed Mary from a schoolteacher to a professional assassin, and the whole assassin thread is actually kind of ludicrous, and it would work a lot better if Mary were Joe’s ex-girlfriend instead of his sister-in-law, and—

My method of drafting would probably give an organized person hives, but it works for me. It would be impossible for me to map out the details of my story so thoroughly that I could write a first draft so good that it required only minor revision before it was ready to submit. I know some writers can do that (hi, Sariah!) and I think they are brilliant, but my small and scrambled brain has to write the story to find the story. It will take multiple drafts for me to clarify the confusion and weave all the story threads into the tapestry. I do need to know where the story is going before I can write a draft—I can’t do the “sit down in front of a blank screen and see where my characters take me” kind of writing that some authors use to create wonderful stories. That’s not enough for me—I need more direction. But I’ll only find the complete depth and breadth and twists and turns of the story in rewriting.

This is fine by me, because I love rewriting. I love it much more than drafting. I love having a manuscript to work with, no matter how messy. Instead of a blank screen and an empty file, I now have 84K words to get me moving. I love working with a novel and watching it improve. It’s exciting to see a story blossoming from that scraggly first draft.

What kind of writer are you? Are you passionate about first drafts and find rewriting tedious? Or, like me, do you love the revision process? Approximately how many drafts of a novel do you usually do before submitting it?

And, when I go to Costco this morning, should I give in and buy those giant muffins or should I be good and buy twenty pounds of carrots instead? On second thought, don't answer that.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

To Robison

When I talked about not having to blog unless you wanted to, I wasn't talking about you, Rob. Get blogging, I need my fix. Finals don't start until Friday.

Monday, April 14, 2008

To Blog Or Not To Blog

Over the last few weeks, my life has slowly been overtaken by blogs. Once a week I write something here to keep Sariah from sending over the Three Nephites (or their close cousins) to rough me up. Then I have my alter ego gig. Then Robby Nichols at Covenant asked me to help out at an LDS reseller convention by talking about blogs. Finally I have been working my tail off on my Farworld Blog Tour.

So the other day my sister gave a deep sigh and asked me something like, “With my new book coming out, I’m supposed to start a blog. What do you recommend?”

I asked her, “Do you want to do a blog?”

She said, “No. I really don’t.”

My insightful, blog experienced, marketing savvy answer was, “Then don’t.”

Could be I’m just a little burned out on blogs at the moment. It could even be the word blog has lost all meaning for me. Blog, blog, blog, blog, blog, blog, blog, blog, blog. See what I mean? It kind of starts to sound like a digestive act Kerry talked about on Friday. It certainly doesn’t sound like anything you discuss at the dinner table.

But I think my answer was and is, really how I feel about almost any marketing activity. Don’t do it unless you want to. And understand what you hope to get out of it.

I recently heard a speaker describe initiative not as what you do the first time out, but what you continue to do afterward. Here’s the thing. If you don’t blog, no one is really going to miss it. They’ll check your website, realize you don’t have a blog, and move on. It’s not that big a deal. But once you start a blog, you built up a certain level of expectation. It’s like making friends. There is an understanding that you’ll stay in touch. By my analogy then, starting a blog you don’t want to do is like making friends with someone you really don’t like. (Say, Rob, for example.) What are the chances of keeping the friendship or the blog going if you don’t like it? Not so good. And it’s better to have no blog than a dusty thing that sits in the corner.

Of course, just like writing, a blog does not have to be a commercial venture. You can keep a blog as a sort of journal. You can use a blog to tell family and friends what you’ve been up to. You can use it to share information you know about hobbies or interests. You can use it to make new friends. In fact, I would go so far as to say, even if your primary goal is to sell books, or rakes, or juggling knives, you won’t keep the blog up unless you really come to at very least like what you are writing about and who you are writing to.

The first thing you have to figure out is why you are blogging. As someone who is heavy into marketing, I spend a ton of time visiting other sites, checking tools like technorati, marketleap, and statcounter. I decide what kinds of things to blog about. I decide when to post my best blogs. I trade links. I check my referral sources. Essentially I treat it like a business. I love it, but I still work at it.

But why do all that if you’re just looking to stay in touch with friends? Why worry about how many hits you’re getting if you posting about Timmy’s first words? Isn’t that kind of like worrying about whether your diary will become a best seller? Have fun with it. Post when you want to and enjoy what you are writing about. If posting regularly becomes a drag, team up with some friends so you can all carry some of the weight (and make fun of each other.)

The same thing goes for all these networking sites: Facebook, MySpace, Cre8buzz, or whatever. For the average LDS writer, the time you put into a networking site is not going to pay for itself. Not even close. If your sole goal is to make more money, spend your time writing the next book.

But if you are looking to make friends or stay in touch with friends, then stop treating it like a business (how many hits did I get? How high am I ranked? How many friends did I get today?) It’s just another thing to obsess over.

Blogging is great. I’ve made a ton of new friends. I’ve ordered far too many new books. I’ve hopefully done a pretty good job of promoting my new book. But don’t do it unless you really want to. There are enough things we have to do in life. Spend the time you have free on the things you like.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Happy Birthday to Us! (And a Contest)

by Sariah S. Wilson

The blog and I share the same birthday - April 11. (I don't think that was intentional, just the way things turned out.)

The blog is two years old (and I am, um, not two years old), so I wanted to take a chance to celebrate and to thank my fellow Frog Bloggers for all of their hard work and dedication and the entertaining, heartfelt, moving, inspirational, instructive, funny, and wonderful posts.

So for everybody who posts a comment to wish us a Happy Birthday, you will be eligible to win one of our books listed on the right (your choice. And I think it is very big of me not to force you to choose "Desire of Our Hearts." Woot on free agency).

Happy Birthday, Six LDS Writers and a Frog! (And don't you think the Frog looks remarkably well for his age?)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Five Things I Hate About Chemo

by Kerry Blair

When I began chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, I wanted to keep it private. Two weeks later, not only is it the worst-kept secret since Neiman Marcus’s chocolate chip cookie recipe, but I feel like a fraud. I recently got a letter from a friend outlining how brave and candid and long-suffering I supposedly am. Oh, gosh. Is that a load of . . . um . . . that all-natural material everybody’s spreading on their gardens this time of year, or what? Not only would I never cut it on Moment of Truth, but I can gripe and whine with the best of them!

I’ll prove it. In a drastic departure from “to review or not to review” – and just for the record – here are the top five things I hate about chemo:

Mouth sores and chapped lips. I go through two tubes of Chapstick and one bottle of mouthwash a week with no noticeable improvement. It is the first time in my life I’ve been grateful for thin lips and a small mouth. Julia Roberts and/or Joan Rivers would not survive this.

Trashed taste buds. Everything tastes terrible. Some people say it’s metallic, but I think it’s more . . . I don’t know what it is . . . but it changes eating as I know it. Bland is barely tolerable. Sweet is nasty. Salty is at least close to normal. Anybody remember the salt-craving creature from Star Trek? I feel such a strong kinship these days that I downloaded her picture and put it on the mantle with the rest of the family photos.

The singular opportunity to observe results of my body’s semi-digestive process up close and personal. Repeatedly.

Soliloquies. “To wig or not to wig. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (as in the looks one is bound to get when bald) or to take arms against a sea of troubles (as in poaching somebody else’s hair) and by opposing end them?” Of all the thousand natural shocks that chemo-flesh is heir to, hair-loss might be the worst. I’ve spent hours looking at wigs. Long hair. Short hair. Brown hair. Red hair. Goth hair. Mohair. Even a curly blonde bubble-do Barbie wore in 1955. Suffice it to say that despite being sorely tempted by a purple shag, I decided to hope for the best instead of prepare for the worst. I will think positively . . . and avoid hairbrushes. If I go bald anyway, Plan B is already in the closet: the knee-length curls Hilary wore at the last Mystery Dinner. Bonus: Since I'm so short, all I will need to reenact Rapunzel is a stepladder and a witch.
Pity Parties. While I do allow that an occasional intimate tea with self-pity is gratifying, I despair of larger soirees held in my honor. Almost everybody I know feels so dang sorry for me they can’t stand it. Well, I can’t stand it either.

Most of my phone conversations now go like this: Hello? Did I get you up? No. Oh, uh, good. So, er, how are you? I’m fine. How are you really? I’m really fine. No, you’re not. You puke toenails. Well, sure. I meant other than that. I knew I shouldn’t have bothered you! Click.

It’s not much different in cyberspace. I used to get silly stories and incredible pictures and tales of woe and requests to read manuscripts. This morning, every single e-mailer wanted to sell me something or pray for me. Obviously, the word has spread. While I am practically certain that I am the same person I was before I started feeding on salt and kneeling in the presence of toilets, I may be the only one who believe it.

Nobody take this next part wrong, even if I phrase it badly, okay? I deeply appreciate prayer in my behalf. Prayer is, as Elder Maxwell taught, the most efficacious thing one person can do for another. Thus I am richly blessed by the effort and faith of my family and friends. Pity, on the other hand, leads people to think that all they have to offer is prayer . . . and sympathy. That is not the case.

Please don't feel sorry for me. I don’t feel sorry for myself – at least not because of that stupid “Things I Hate about Chemo” list. Everything on it pales in comparison to my many blessings. They are too numerous to list, but I have a great doctor, adequate insurance, lovely bathrooms, and the best family and dearest friends in the world. Yes, I also have cancer, but I have a kind that is almost never caught in stage one – and yet it was! This means that if I endure a little discomfort today, I have a 95% chance of living enough tomorrows to . . . I don’t know . . . see Rob grow up? Watch the Cubs win a World Series? Something miraculous, for sure!

I do recognize that ignoring cancer is like overlooking an elephant in the room. But in my case, it is a very large room and a relatively small elephant. In fact, I think it looks like this one – about eight inches high and six inches wide. Since it’s made of solid brass, it is a little heavy to carry around all the time, but one does what one must. Here’s the thing I wish more people understood: If I hold this thing up to my nose it is all I can see. Its width and breadth obscure the room and make everything seem as dark and cold as it is itself. Anyone would be afraid to be alone with a beast of that magnitude. But when I manage to push it out to arm’s length, the perspective changes. It’s the same elephant, and we’re still together in the same room, but now there is light, and around its greatly-diminished dimensions I can clearly see all the places I have yet to go.

You’d think, knowing this, I could keep that elephant where it belongs. But the thing I really hate about chemo is the lack of strength I sometimes have to keep the elephant at arm’s length. Then, more than I need barf bags and pretzels and sympathetic shoulders, I need friends who still see me behind the elephant. Living and laughing and growing and serving despite cancer and chemo is the only way to keep the pachyderm in perspective.

So, quick, somebody tell me an elephant joke!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

To Review or Not to Review

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I read Stephanie’s blog yesterday with interest because I feel almost exactly opposite. I love reading and I haven’t hesitated to give my opinions and reviews on a myriad of books. Perhaps it just comes naturally to me because I was an editor for so long and evaluated manuscripts. Part of my job was to help authors polish their books and improve their writing. But, perhaps, after reading Stephanie’s blog and some of the comments, I shouldn’t give my opinions and reviews so freely.

I had an example of this come up just last week. I did a review of Traci Hunter Abramson’s new book, "Freefall." I enjoyed this book immensely, but had a few things in it that stuck out, so I mentioned them in my review.

Here is what I said:

Freefall begins in the middle of a hostage situation and it quickly escalates from there during an attempted rescue. The events that change a woman's life are exciting and take us across the deserts of the country of Abolstan which the author does a wonderful job of describing. I really enjoyed how she wrote her character of Amy Whitmore, the senator's six foot tall daughter who is dealing with being a hostage, then a difficult rescue, not to mention an ex-fiancé who won't give up, and her budding feelings for her handsome rescuer. The author is really able to write this character as realistic and relatable as she goes through harrowing experiences and tries to keep her wits about her. My favorite part, though, was when the author had Amy go shopping for clothes that are difficult to find. Almost every woman can relate to that!

The author also does a great job with the romance and emotions of a difficult situation and a complicated relationship. The awareness and tension between the two characters is palpable and I really enjoyed that. I loved the romantic midnight picnic, although my one complaint was that they were in Italy, but with the fairly generic description of the setting you never would have known it. Italy is so romantic on its own and could have added a smidge more to the already heightened emotions, I think.

I also had a hard time with the super-humanness of the main hero, Brent. He wasn't as real and well-developed as Amy was and had barely any mentioned weaknesses besides wondering if he should start a relationship with Amy. Brent is able to rescue hostages, find information leaks and stop assassination attempts without making any real mistakes. He also solves each new complication within a chapter or two. It ruined the pacing and suspense for me a little because as soon as Brent became involved, it seemed all was taken care of and the thread of that part of the story was over. I wish the smaller complications had been woven more into the story instead of small little stories within the story which were solved so easily. I think it would have only heightened an already suspenseful book.

Other than that, this is one of the best stories I've read that is so detailed as to the agencies that protect our country and the people who serve in them. Ms. Abramson writes the emotions and the romance that had me glued to the page and turning them far into the night. I enjoyed this book immensely and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys great romantic/suspense.

I didn’t want to seem overly harsh, but Ms. Abramson is such a talented writer, the small flaws seemed more prominent. I e-mailed Ms. Abramson the review before I posted it and interestingly enough, she told me she had been aware of the problems I had mentioned and had tried to strengthen those areas. We ended up having several conversations and she was very gracious, telling me that she had really appreciated my review.

Frankly, I think we can help each other as authors and as friends. When my first book was reviewed, there was some criticism in it that stung me as an author, but it also motivated me to be better and to improve my writing. I respect reviewers because it is hard to give a helpful review sometimes for fear of backlash or hurting someone’s feelings. I don’t believe that anyone would ever want to hurt someone’s feelings with a review, but I also think if reviewers are honest and constructive, it can truly help us as authors to hone our craft.

(On a side note, Traci Hunter Abramson will be our guest blogger next Thursday and I am thrilled. She is a very talented author, who was a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency and I am so excited to read what she has to say next week. So stay tuned!)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Tales of a Book Critic. Or Not.

by Stephanie Black

Well, I guess I’d better face the fact that no publication is going to hire me as a reviewer anytime soon. I do have very strong opinions on what I do and don’t like in books. But when it comes to LDS fiction, I can’t bring myself to be publicly candid--if candor includes criticism. I can rant in private if something irritates me in a book, but when it comes to posting a not-so-glowing review of a book or even posting a lukewarm comment on LDS Publisher’s new fiction blog, I just can’t do it. I shrink from the thought of even rating the book on the one-to-five star scale, unless I thought it was at least a four.

If I really like a book, I’ll feel free to say so. If I liked a book overall and could live with what I didn’t like, I’ll feel free to praise the book. Once I did go so far as to (gasp) publicly express the opinion that a writer-who-must-not-be-named shouldn’t have ended his book with a dang cliffhanger (You know who you are, bud). But I only feel free to mention that because that writer guy is such an outstanding author and the book was superb overall. If I feel a book was disappointing overall, I’ll probably just keep my mouth shut in public rather than state that I didn't like it. If you want to know what I think, you can e-mail me privately, and if I trust you, I might tell you my candid opinion, using a series of symbols, codes and cryptic quotes from The Princess Bride.

Okay, I’m not that bad. Under certain circumstances, I can be frank. I had to be, when I was on the Whitney committee and we were discussing books, but we had an ironclad policy that our deliberations would remain private, so I didn’t have to worry that my less-than-stellar opinion of a book would become public knowledge.

Why am I such a wimp when it comes to reviewing other books? I think it’s because I identify too strongly with other LDS-market authors. I know how it stings to get criticized, and I just can’t bring myself to do that to another author. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not suggesting that reviewers should only praise books and avoid all criticism. That’s absurd and useless. I'm just saying that I can't write the reviews.

Believe it or not, I tend to be picky about what I do and don't like in books, and I feel that my candid opinion of some novels would be a lot harsher than the majority of opinions on that work. I recently purchased an LDS novel that I thought I might enjoy. It was in a genre I like, and I’d read a very glowing review of the book. I read the book and was disappointed. The story was fun overall, but I felt some scary scenes were too melodramatic, infodumps bugged me, and I wasn’t keen on the author’s handling of viewpoint. On a five-star scale, I’d give the book three stars. But I haven’t. And I won’t. I ain’t saying nothing.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Guest Interview: Sariah S. Wilson

It's always been my primary goal to present you, Dearest Readers, with the most applicable information possible. You can always count on my blogs to be ripped from the headlines, as it were--I address real, substantive issues that affect your life.

So, since all we seem to be talking about these days are Sariah's gallstones, I figured I'd invite her into the studio for a little chat.

Rob: So, gallstones gotta suck, huh?

Sariah: That is just about the most appalling first sentence I've ever seen in an interview.

Rob: Don't judge me, Sariah Wilson.

Sariah: I'm just saying that if I went to all the trouble to come out here, the least you could have done was come up with a good interview question.

Rob: Fine. Let's start over. Sariah, on your website it says that you met your husband in the MTC while he was a missionary and you were a cafeteria worker. My question is: what did they put in those fried cheese sticks, because those things were way awesome.

Sariah: We put cheese in them.

Rob: I'll have to see if I can get the recipe somewhere. So, you know, when I was in the MTC I always ate the same salad: lettuce, baby corn, hardboiled eggs, cheese, ham, and ranch dressing.

Sariah: That sounds like a quality salad. Not very healthy, though.

Rob: Probably not much worse than the cheesesticks. And you know what else we did?

Sariah: No, what? I mean, I sincerely care about your MTC eating habits.

Rob: The drinking glasses were all pretty small, so we'd take about twelve of them, and get a wide variety of beverages. You know--a couple glasses of chocolate milk, a couple of Sprite, maybe one or two of cranberry juice and rootbeer.

Sariah: That sounds like an absolutely revolting combination.

Rob: No, it was like a Hickory Farms beverage sampler.

Sariah: Have you ever heard that I write books?

Rob: Another thing that I don't understand about the MTC cafeteria: there would be a hundred people in line, and some doofus up at the front would start passing trays back to the rest of us, as though that would help anything. Thanks, Elder, now when I get up to the counter ten minutes from now I won't have bend over and pick up my own tray! Know what I mean, Sariah?

Sariah: I can honestly say no.

Rob: I wonder if a tasty salad would have prevented your gallstones.

Sariah: Well, gallstones can be caused by a number of different things. For example, when bile contains too much cholesterol and not enough bile salts.

Rob: Gross!

Sariah: Also, increased hormone levels (such as during pregnancy) can cause gallstones.

Rob: What are bile salts, and how does one get them?

Sariah: Bile salts are sodium glycocholate and sodium taurocholate. You get them from your liver.

Rob: That's interesting, by which I mean that it's not interesting at all. In fact, the only interesting thing you've said so far is that you used to work in the MTC cafeteria.

Sariah: You said that, not me.

Rob: I know! I'm doing all the work here! So, on another topic, you recently returned from a cruise to Pre-columbian Mesoamerica.

Sariah: I think, technically, that would be a time-traveling cruise.

Rob: Were you attacked by Lamanites?

Sariah: No.

Rob: In other news, I hear you were a finalist for a Whitney Award.

Sariah: That is true.

Rob: I hear you lost.

Sariah: Well, yes.

Rob: ... Um. This is awkward.

Sariah: Can we be done now?

In a moment. Tell me about what you're working on next.

Sariah: Well, I have my two Book of Mormon romances, Secrets in Zarahemla and Desire of Our Hearts--

Rob: That girl on the cover of Desire of Our Hearts is cute.

Sariah: I'm glad you approve.

Rob: But I'm annoyed that I can only see half of her face. Maybe the other half isn't cute. How am I supposed to decide?

Sariah: Anyway, now I'm working on my next Book of Mormon romance called Bring Unto Me the Head of my Father. It's a romance about the daughter of Jared (Brianna) and her boyfriend Frank.

Rob: Really?

Sariah: Yes, really. I've decided to try for something more edgy.

Rob: I call bull.

Sariah: Well, it will probably be self-published.

Rob: Ah, that makes more sense. Well, good luck with that crap. And the gallstones.

Sariah: And good luck to you with whatever it is you do.

Rob: Thanks.

Sariah: These interviews just kind of end when you get tired of writing, don't they. You don't even try to come to a conclusion or anything, do you?

Rob: Nope.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Farworld Blog Tour

If you aren't sick of hearing about my new fantasy series, you undoubtedly will be in the near future. What can I say? It's pretty much the focus of my life for the next five months. Over on my Find Your Magic Blog, I've been doing a count down to my Blog tour. Since I'd love to have any of you take part as well, I'm going to post the same thing here that I just did there.

The only difference is that if you'd like to link to this announcement (see notes below.) Please link to the Find Your Magic Blog instead of this one so people won't get confused.

As promised, I am officially kicking off the Find Your Magic, Farworld Blog tour. Since I haven’t done this before, I am going to kind of make it up as I go. It’s pretty simple, so that shouldn’t be too hard. But if any of you more experienced bloggers think of a better way to do it, or catch something I missed, let me know. Here’s the deal:

My publisher, Shadow Mountain, is providing me with 400 advanced reader copy of the first book in the Farworld series, Farworld—Water. The books will be used for a blog tour running from July 1 to August 31. (The book should hit the shelves the first week of September. It appears the official release date is September 5th.) I will send the first 200 bloggers who sign up to take part in the tour an ARC, and will also drop ship a second copy for them as part of any type of contest they would like to run.

What: Farworld Blog
When: The tour will run through the months of July and August. Signup will begin Friday, April 11th. (But you can get in early. See below.)

Here’s what you do:

1) Send an e-mail to me at scott at jscottsavage dot com any time after 7:00 am MST Friday, April 11th telling me the name and URL of your blog, the mailing address where you’d like the book sent, and any preference you have as to when you want to post your review. I’d kind of like to spread out the reviews over the two months prior to the release, but I don’t want to tie anyone to a specific date. Let’s just make it easy and say first half of July, second half of July, first half of August, or second half of August.
2) Agree to run a review of the book and do a Q&A with me on your blog during the tour. You don’t need to send me your questions now, since you may come up with different questions once you’ve read the book. (I’d imagine something like, “If you can get this trash published, doesn’t that give hope for everyone?”) Okay, I hope that’s not really the first question that comes to mind, but it would be great if sites asked questions that are most tailored to their audience so they aren’t all the same.
3) When the time comes to do the review and the Q&A, run any type of contest you’d like. When you have a winner, send me their address and I’ll send them their book. On both the book I send you and the one I send the winners, let me know if you’d like them signed and personalized in any way.

Here’s what I do:
1) I will provide Shadow Mountain with the list of blogger addresses. As soon as the ARCs come out they will be mailed to you.
2) I will post here on the site when the tour is full, and when the ARCs are sent out. If you don’t get your book within a week or so of the mailing, let me know and I’ll check on your copy.
3) As soon as I get your questions, I’ll send back my answers.
4) If we get too many people signing up for one part of the tour, I’ll ask for volunteers to change to another part of the tour.

Random Notes: G sharp, E flat, D.


Based on the feedback I’ve received so far, I think we’re going to have a pretty good turn out, but I’d really like to make sure we get the full 200 blogs taking part in the tour. So here’s what I’m thinking. If you will do what you can to promote the tour to other bloggers you know, I’ll guarantee you a spot on the tour. Just post a link to the Find Your Magic post on your blog, with or without the image, and e-mail me the URL along with the above information. I’ll automatically add you to the tour. Also if you are part of any groups or forums that might be interested, please let them know as well.

The only real rules I can think of are that you must be using a blog that is fairly active. No fair using sites that haven’t been updated since 1999, cool as that year was. If you have two blogs that have different audiences, I think I’d be okay with you posting and running contests on both of them, but I’d only send you one review copy. Also, if you are part of a blog that you share with other people, it will be first come first serve. Only one review and contest copy per blog.

Oh, this might be kind of a pain, but since the initial release will only be in the US, I’m going to limit the tour to US and Canadian addresses only. I promise to do another tour in other countries when foreign rights are sold.

If you don't have a blog, you'll have 200 chances to win an ARC since I'll link to everyone who takes part in the tour. And I might be able to score a couple extra copies to give away here too.

Finally, thanks everyone. I really appreciate all of you who have given me such great feedback and support. It’s great to have good people helping you, and I hope I can return the favor. But in all seriousness, review the book honestly. I’d much rather have someone say they didn’t like this or that so I can try to improve with the next book in the series. But, hey, if you really do think I’m the next JK Rowling, say what you have to.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Operation a Success. Still in Pain

by Sariah S. Wilson

My title is my tagged response to Kerry's post from yesterday.

But because the above is true, I just wanted to briefly log in and let everyone know that despite some complications (and a hospital stay that went from a planned two days to an unexpected four days) things are well now and I am home. I'm not very yellow, which is nice, and the itching has stopped, which is also nice. 'Course, now I have three gaping stomach wounds, and they sorta hurt, but I'm dealing.

Next week I'll type something up that's, um, longer, but for tonight I am awarding myself a blogging break so that I can continue to rest.

And so I can figure out a way to get well soon so that I can do my taxes. I've *never* waited this long before, and now I'll have to do it while being immobile on the couch. Anybody else still trying to get their taxes done?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Your Life in Six Words

Legend claims that Ernest Hemingway started the six-word novel/memoir craze with For sale: baby shoes, never worn. If the part about him considering it his best work is true, I’d tend to agree. But this isn’t a blog about how much I dislike Hemingway; it’s a blog about the addictiveness of the six-word phenomena. (Also it’s a sneaky way to get other people – like you! – to write my blog for me.)

In 2006 SMITH online magazine hosted a reader contest: Your life story in six words. The site was inundated with entries – 500+ a day, in fact. From this tidal wave of response came the bestselling book Not Quite What I was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. (Rachel Fershleiser & Larry Smith, editors. I just can not get the link to work, but you can find it on Amazon.) Three examples from the book:

Nobody cared, then they did. Why?
(Chuck Klosterman, award-winning journalist)
Cursed with cancer. Blessed by friends.
(Hannah Davies, nine-year-old leukemia patient)
Well, I thought it was funny.
(Stephen Colbert, TV personality, humorist)

Since then, many sites have asked their readers (famous and obscure) to post six-word memoirs or novels. One site asked sci-fi/fantasy writers for a futuristic novel in six words. My favorites:

The baby’s blood type? Human. Mostly.
(Orson Scott Card)
Steve ignores editor’s word limit and
(Steve Meretzsky)
Heaven falls. Details at eleven.
(Robert Jordan)

Choice Literacy got in on the act, polling authors who contribute to their site. My favorites:

Little bit Lucy, tempered by Ethel.
(Tami Maus)
It’s on my to do list.
(Mary Lee Hahn)

Since it’s spreading across the blogosphere now, and since I got tagged, I am hereby tagging all of you. You may write a novel or a memoir or both, but you must keep each to six words. No exceptions. (No, not even for DGW who has never written a mere six words about anything in his entire life.) I’ll expect 500 entries (at least) by the end of the day.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Fielding Criticism: A Referee's Guide

by Julie Coulter Bellon

"I really hated your book."

The sentence that every writer dreads hearing. Or even small shades of that. "I thought your book was boring." Or maybe, "I just couldn’t get into your book."

Almost every writer I know has received criticism on their books. Whether it was something small like, "well, your book dragged in the middle," or "I predicted the ending in the first chapter, but I liked the story anyway," type of comments all the way to, "I hated your book."

It’s hard, as writers, not to take criticism of any sort, personally. We’ve poured our heart and soul into this book, hoping to entertain people, to share some tidbit of knowledge or some story that was inside of us dying to be told. And then it seems like it is under-appreciated or hated. What’s an author to do?

Some authors probably crawl back into bed, watch a movie like Beaches and cry it out. Others probably look for the name of the reviewer and write them into the next book as an incompetent villain or a hapless victim of some kind. But what is a productive response to criticism?

My friend who is a professional referee takes a lot of criticism and her job is actually quite relatable to the writing profession. She is very vulnerable standing up in front of literally hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people, depending on the venue. She said, "I am out there for all to see and it’s very personal because it is my judgment and my personal knowledge that I have to rely on 100% of the time." Doesn’t that sound like a writer?

Yet, even on her best day as a referee, there is usually one side of the gym that hates her at any given time, depending on which team she made the call against. She’s been yelled at, sworn at, and slapped, and she still puts on that black and white striped shirt to do it again the next night. Is she a glutton for punishment? No. She is able to put it behind her, and she knows that, in the end, these people don’t hate her personally. They can’t, because they don’t know her. They hate the referee, the position she holds. Interestingly enough, though, without exception, even after the most difficult games, people will tell her what a good job she did and that she was a good ref.

I think that is similar to what authors go through. With our books, we receive criticism, but we don’t give up. We put it behind us and go on with our next project, because even during difficult times, there are people out there who think we’re doing a good job. We keep going because we know, in the end, the criticism generally isn’t about us as people, because they don’t know us. It’s about our story and our craft. As hard as it is, we can't take it personally.

There is a place for criticism however. Feedback can be very helpful to a writer. But how do you know what is helpful and what is not?

A referee has some tools to keep the criticism under control and I think as writers we can figuratively use the same ones. A referee carries two cards with them—a yellow warning card and a red penalty card. I think a writer should also carry two cards with them as well, when it comes to "feedback."

Let’s say you have received some criticism. As a writer, we should always in our minds, give the feedback a yellow card. Yellow, of course, can mean to yield. So, let’s take another look before we continue. You go back and read the review or comment again. Ask yourself, is it constructive? Can you use it to better your writing?

If it will help you improve your writing, or spotlights a weakness that you can strengthen, then go ahead and work on that. For example, if someone comments that your character of the grandmother seemed stereotypical and one-dimensional, you can flesh it out and fix that. If the comment was, I hated all the characters in your book, well, there’s not much you can do with that type of feedback.

That’s when you pull out your red card. After you have evaluated the criticism, if it is not constructive and does not help you, then red card it. Of course the red card would mean to stop thinking about it. Stop and Discard, if you will.

Feedback can be a wonderful thing. Even negative feedback can help you as an author, but sometimes it comes in forms that may be hurtful or seemingly unkind. That is why I think we, as writers, could pull out the yellow and red cards to evaluate it and see if there are improvements that can really be made or not.

But even with that, a writer also needs to remember that not everyone is going to love your story. Just like my friend the referee, half of the gym hates her at any given time. Yet, she gets up and does it again the next day. That is similar to life as a writer. No matter what criticisms we have felt, we will get up and do it again the next day. Because we know, if we play our cards right, we are winners, and victory can and will be ours.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

On the Road Again

by Stephanie Black

Tonight is the first night of (cue drum roll) roadshow practice.

I don’t remember much about the roadshow we performed in my long-ago youth. Rob, I’m sure, remembers everything about his youth like it was yesterday because for him, it was yesterday. (Actually, I’m not THAT much older than Rob. Not even a decade older. And in adjusted age, I’m younger than he is because I don’t have the chemicals from eight hundred million gallons of Coke settled deep into my bones. Though, speaking of chemicals, I do eat hot dogs . . . ) I didn’t even remember doing a roadshow in my YW years until my sister prompted the memory. Something about superstars. I think it involved vests and boots and a song and dance. Or something.

Three years ago, our roadshow director invited me to assist. She knew I was a writer and assumed I might have something to offer when it came to writing a script. I showed up at the meeting and kind of sat there with my jaw on the floor while experienced roadshow folks tossed wild ideas around, which our director took and fashioned into a hilarious script. I was amazed. These people were brilliant! I had published a novel, but I had NO IDEA how to write a roadshow. I gave some minimal help on song lyrics, but that was it. To all of you out there who have written a roadshow, I think you people are geniuses and that the Whitney Awards should include a category for roadshow scripts.

So this year, roadshow time rolled around and once again, we have a truly brilliant director and talented and hilarious scriptwriters, none of whom are me. All we YW leaders are the support staff. We’ll help with the rehearsals, help the girls create their dances, and so on. I’m thrilled with this arrangement, happy to take marching orders. But just in case I ever get asked to create a roadshow script, I’m thinking King Jeff and the Storymakers should consider adding a roadshow class to their conference (as Dave Barry would say, King Jeff and the Storymakers would be a good name for a rock band).

And for all of you who stumbled across this blog because you Googled “roadshow scripts” and were hoping for help—sorry about that.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

All Night Long

by Robison Wells

I'm getting old. Like, really, appallingly, grotesquely old. I'll be turning thirty on Friday.

Last night I discovered just how old I actually am, and it's broken my little heart. The basic story is this: I had a whole mess of homework, including a short little paper, and great big paper, and short online quiz. And, because last night was Family Home Evening, I got a late start on all of that.

(Tangent: my five year old wanted to make up a game to play last night and, since we were talking about Helping and Sharing, she devised a great new Helping and Sharing game. The basic rules are: you play Hide and Seek. If you happen to be "it" then you hold a Barbie. And, after counting, instead of saying "Ready or not, here I come!", you say "Helping and Sharing! Here I come to help and share!" I think I'm going to write it up and submit it to The Friend.)

Anyway, so I got started on all of this paper writing and quiz taking at about 9:00pm last night. I wasn't concerned about staying up late--I had to do that anyway because registration for fall semester started at midnight. So, I wrote and studied and typed. And, when midnight rolled around, I registered for classes (including Sales Management, because I want to grow up to be just like Jeff). And then it was about one in the morning, and I was still writing and studying. And it occured to me: I had to be up at 6:00am anyway. Why don't I just stay up all night long!? This is something that I hadn't done since my good old undergrad years. (I mean, I've spent many a sleepless night with little babies, but I haven't intentionally stayed up all night in many years.)

So, hurrah, I thought. That gives me way more time to write a paper. At 1:30am, I cracked open another cold, refreshing Coca-Cola, and settled in for a long haul to Homework Town.

I took my quiz, and I did surprisingly well on it. (Which isn't to say I got a high score. It was a Managerial Accounting quiz. If Managerial Accounting tasted like a big plate of fried chicken--with mashed potatoes and cream gravy and a deep-fried green beans--and I was the last person on earth, and everyone on earth would come instantly back to life and crown me their king if I would just eat one bite of Managerial Accounting, I would STILL NOT DO IT.)

And I finished the long paper, and moved on to the short paper. It was a case study of Newell Company acquiring Rubbermaid--and if that doesn't make you want to stay up all night, I don't know what does! Anyway, so I was sitting there writing it, swilling Coke and listening to Gnarls Barkley on my mp3 player, and I wrote the following sentence:

One of Bowers’ cautions when discussing M&As--especially product-extension M&As--recommendation relative size of companies was an established the acquired company is relative disadvantage compared to past M&As.

I took another swill of Coke to clear my thoughts, read the sentence again, and realized that I had just fallen asleep while writing. I think this is a first for me. (Incoherent, brain-dead writing is yet another situation where I'm trying to grow up to be just like Jeff! Zing!)

Anyway, I tried to keep going, but it just didn't work. I was so close--it was 3:15am!--but I just couldn't stay awake any longer. I set the alarm for 6:00, crawled into bed, and went to sleep.

And here I am today, with only one two and a half hours of sleep. And I'm surprisingly coherent. I mean, I drank two cans of Coke during my 8:00am class this morning, but that's normal, isn't it? ISN'T IT?

I Believe

Flying to Boston last week, I watched a movie on the airplane. I liked it so much that I bought it and shared it with my family tonight. If the line, “I believe in music like some people believe in fairytales,” gives you chills, you’ll understand why I went right out and got it. If not, go rent or buy “August Rush” right now. Really. Now. Leave your computer and go. My blog will still be here when you come back, but you need to see this movie. It is firmly enshrined in my top ten movies of all time.

Having said that, this blog isn’t a movie review. And I won’t even give any spoilers if you haven’t seen it. (But really, see it!) What I want to talk about is stories. Finding them. Capturing them on paper. And sharing them with as many people as possible. In the movie, Evan hears music in everything—traffic, telephone wires blowing in the wind, chimes, basketballs bouncing. Sometimes I feel that way about stories.

People often ask authors where we come up with our ideas, and you just want to say, “Everywhere! I see stories on street corners. I hear poems in shopping malls. I find characters in airports and plotlines in overheard restaurant conversations.”

Evan wants to have his music heard by as many people as possible. I think most authors feel the same way. It’s like seeing a sunset that takes your breath away and somehow managing to catch it and put it in a bottle. You want to take it to the top of the highest hill in town and hold it over your head so everyone else can see it.

I loved how all the elements in the movie come together like the different parts of a symphony. Almost as if the movie itself is music. Have you ever felt that way about your story? It starts with a single character or maybe just a scene. That night as you start to fall asleep, the character begins talking to you. Then you realize she isn’t talking to “you” at all. She’s talking to another character. And they’re discussing a danger that could threaten their whole world. Maybe even our whole world.

While all the sane people are sound asleep, you are listening to make believe people talk in your head. Plots rise and fall, settings and time periods flow past your closed eyes. And before you know it, you’ve captured a sunset in a bottle and it’s time to get it down on paper.

Of course there are obstacles in the way of your success just like there are obstacles in the way of your characters’ success. Plot holes a mile wide will appear, but you’ll find a way around them or maybe you’ll just fly right on through and appear on the other side. Sometimes it will take a while for the words to find their way onto the paper. That’s okay. Because they’re all there in your head, and they won’t go away until you get them out.

My sunset may look much different from yours. Some people may think yours is more beautiful. But that’s totally okay. As long as there are people catching a glimpse of what I saw in my sunset, I’m good to go. I’ll hold it over my head and let whoever will come come.

I believe in fairytales like some people believe in music. Come dance with me.