Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, June 28, 2008

There Is No Charge for Awesomeness

by Sariah S. Wilson

The title doesn't have anything to do with my blog other than I thought that was the best line from "Kung-Fu Panda." (And speaking of movies, which is also not the topic of this blog, I experienced a movie theater first today. The power went out during "WALL-E" (which is a super cute movie and I actually really liked it. I'm always impressed when so much story can be conveyed with so little dialogue). Imagine - a theater full of small children with no lights and now, no movie. A movie they had been chanting for and calling out the names of characters before the characters even spoke (way to go, Pixar/Disney promo machine). I braced for impact. Instead it was eerily calm, but that could be because a lot of parents took their kids on bathroom breaks. It was sort of like the old days of cinema with the timely intermission.)

So back to my now bleary-eyed typing and original topic, I love public speaking. I love teaching. It seems really weird with my introvertedness - you'd think that I would shy away from such things. But I don't. I really enjoy them.

I'm adoring teaching the Book of Mormon to teenagers. They're actually shushing each other now when someone talks out of turn. I think they get excited because I'm excited.

Like when I recently taught about King Benjamin, after doing some research, I found out that a lot of his speech directly correlated with Jewish traditions/holidays. Like the Jubilee, where the words spoken are recorded in Leviticus (and are just like what Benjamin says). The Jubilee, for those that don't know, is the celebration of seven periods of seven years (with some debate over whether it was actually celebrated in the 49th or 50th year). So, wanna know what's interesting about that?

The people of Central America kept two calendars. One calendar was based off of 20-day months. The other was our 365 day calendar.

Every 52 years the two calendars would coincide. As you can imagine, this was not only the cause of some concern, as the world might end or a god would wreak havoc on them (part of the reason Cortez wasn't killed - he arrived in the end of that 52-year cycle and since they were expecting an otherworldly type visitor, he fit the bill and didn't get cut down on sight), but it was also a time of great celebration. When the night passed and they hadn't all died (the gods had seen fit to give them another 52 years), they partied like it was 1999 (or 99 or 999 as the case may be). The celebration was even more grand based on the fact that most people would only expect to see the culmination of the 52-year cycle once in their lives. (And as a side note, if you've heard of the Maya prediction that the world will end in 2012, guess what happens then? Yep, another end to a 52-year cycle.)

So, is it at all possible, that the people from Israel and the people already living in Central America might have combined their traditions since they were so close together? It would make sense to me, as we have evidence of other civilizations combining cultural/religious traditions in order to unite them as a people (which was also a very big concern for Benjamin). Constantine did it with Christianity and the pagans. Christmas was celebrated in December, now in lieu of the winter solstice festivals (which had been big pagan holidays previously).

Stuff like that gets me all stoked, and it makes my kids laugh because I'm so excited about it.

And coming up soon - we're going to act out the battle at the waters of Sebus with Ammon and the thieves/robbers (we can have more discussion on the distinction between the two later). I want to show them what weapons were used and why, and why it wouldn't have made sense for all the bad guys to rush Ammon at once. I want them to get a feel for daggers and slings and Maya swords so that they can really imagine how the fight would have felt, what it would have looked like.


First, because it will engage them. This is something they'll probably always remember. They'll learn.

Second, and probably most important to me, I want them to feel the way I do about the people in the scriptures. I can't tell you how thrilling it's been to me to teach these recent sections of the Book of Mormon on men that I've come to feel like I know.

Not just what I've invented in my head, but what they said and what they wrote.

In my senior year of high school in my AP English class, we were each to choose an author to read and do a year long study of (with a final report that was like ten pages, which made all our jaws drop. Not soon after, ten pages would be an overnight thing in college. LOL). I chose Mark Twain.

I read everything Twain wrote. I read biographies on him. As I wrote my report on him, I remember thinking that if Mark Twain walked down the street, I would know him.

Epiphany moment - I realized a second later that this was one of the ways that I would get to know the Savior, as well. By reading His words and the biographies written by those who knew Him, I could get to know Him.

Maybe these kids won't ever know these prophets and missionaries the way that I feel like I do. But we'll take one more step toward really studying the scriptures and understanding them, instead of just reading them.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Born to Write? (Or Yet Another Reason Julie Wright is My Hero!)

by Kerry Blair

I haven’t written fiction for two years now. If there is some sort of “imagination gland” that prompts the prolific genius of authors like Sariah and Jeff, mine should have shriveled from lack of use. Alas, it seems to be as hyperactive as ever. Cases in point:

1 I tell myself a story every night. I have one plotline I’ve been embellishing long enough to reach Volume 87 or so. Since it’s science fiction/fantasy/horror, I keep changing rules, characters—even worlds—to keep myself hanging on my every word. But it has recently come to my attention that everybody doesn’t do this. Some people listen to soothing music at night. Some people count sheep. Some nod off when their heads touch the pillow. Some people, I hear, even obsess about life’s challenges. I envy them all.

2 I rewrite dialogue in movies, often before the actor has delivered the line. If that isn’t odd enough, I also decide how a movie must end and am invariably disappointed if the screenwriter’s version deviates from mine. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen much. Modern movies are nothing if not predictable. Well, not all modern movies. Indies often fool me, as do many French and Italian flicks. I don’t know if it’s because Europeans approach storytelling differently or if reading subtitles throws off my game. At any rate, I understand there are people who enjoy cinema without composing “better” lines and/or dissecting every plot point. I wish I were one of them.

3 I find people fascinating and want to get to know them. All of them. I am Sariah’s worst nightmare: the nut who could have struck up conversation on the deck of the Titanic—or possibly while dog-paddling in the freezing waters below. I have made lifelong friends at book signings, in the airport, and through transactions on ebay. My family claims I am possessed of a freakish hyno-stare that forces people to tell me everything about themselves in three minutes or less. Not long ago my daughter and I were in line at a local store. All I said to the man behind us was, “Those are my favorite crackers” but it was enough to activate the hypno-stare. While Hil unloaded our basket, I learned that the guy ate cheese and crackers because his wife left him, but when his son moved in he’d learn to cook, and then they’d move because he was looking for a better job in construction, but he’d take weekends off to fish with his boy like his father had with him back in Arkansas where his grandfather was a barber.

I am not making this up, I only wish I was.

4 I am compelled to learn the story behind every antique I collect. If I can’t uncover the story, I make it up. That second thing is much easier, by the way. Worst case: I was once haunted by an antique wedding portrait. Every time I visited my mother, I dropped into the local junk shop to see if the picture was still there. It always was, and the man’s eyes always seemed to follow me. I made up endless stories about that couple, but none rang true. At last my mother bought me the picture. I tore the paper from the back and ripped the photo from the rococo frame. In faded, flowery script was penned: Wm Louise Loutt #185 Crown (illegible).

Eureka! How many Crown-Somethings could there have been in the United States at the turn of the last century? (Eight.) But how many William Loutts could have married a Louise in Crown-Something between 1880 and 1910? (Only one.) Further research revealed that William and Louise and their infant daughter died in a house fire in 1892. They had no close relatives; certainly they had no posterity. But they had me and I did their temple work. I do not doubt that when I pass through the veil, William’s face will be one of the first I recognize. Still, who does this kind of thing? That’s what I was afraid of.

5 I “write books” even when I have no intention of writing books. A couple of weeks ago, Gary and I spent an idyllic weekend in Jerome—a barely-restored ghost town 248 twisting turns over Mingus Mountain from where we live. It is absolutely charming. Tourists are awe-struck when they arrive, but soon have nothing on their minds but shopping, eating, and relaxing. I did the first two things, but my mind kept twisting like the serpentine road above.

Okay, I thought. What if the heroine of the book I will never write is an artist in Prescott? And what if she sells some of her stuff at that charming little shop here in Jerome? And what if she and the hero drive over one morning . . . no, evening, twilight is spookier . . . in a small car . . . no! They ride a motorcycle; way scarier . . . and the bad guy tries to run them off the road and they meet this old prospector (and there is one!) and end up hiding in the skeleton of an abandoned hotel . . . it’s haunted, of course and . . .

Goodness! It got so bad I couldn’t look at anything without it becoming part of the story. I finally began to tell my husband about it before I burst.

“Write a book,” he said encouragingLY. (Sorry. I love adverbs almost as much as ellipses.) It’s not that Gary cares whether or not I write, it’s more that if I feel compelled to spin tales of romantic suspense, he would prefer I tell them to somebody else. Anybody else. And if down the road people might actually pay for them, well, so much the better.

6 I am brevity-challenged. (Perhaps you’ve noticed.) But having given this a lot of thought, at last I can answer Julie’s question: No, I was not “meant” to be a writer. I love Julie Wright’s comment: If God had meant me to be a writer, He’d have made me better at it. (That’s not Julie, but it’s so me!) I simply can't believe I was foreordained to toss eight or twelve silly, adverb-rich novels of LDS romantic suspense into the body of world literature. I have also come to think that I will not be held accountable for never writing again, as long as what I choose to do instead is meaningful and of service to others.

Do you have any idea what a relief that is to someone like me? I honestly think I quit writing because of the overwhelming pressure of the gift/talent/birthright thing. (I was so bad at it!) I think Julie saved me, and now maybe I can write when I want to because I want to. I am even considering signing on to Tristi's July BIAM challenge in the hope composing on my computer by day will save me from the space opera in my head at night!

And then they all sat down to read the Book of Mormon. After that, they went to a fireside, married in the temple, and lived happily ever after. My son says this is how all my books end. (Excuse me, pretty much only the trilogy.) The thing is, I figured that since I was at a loss for a conclusion for this blog, I might as well throw it in, if only to get the creative juices flowing again.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Stronger Story

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Well, I got some comments back from readers on my current work in progress. Here’s the good news: They loved the first one hundred pages and the end. The bad news? They didn’t like the middle part. They thought it was weak.

Oddly, I actually expect that from my manuscripts because I love writing the beginnings of my stories. Usually the first one hundred pages of my books just flow right out of me and it is so satisfying to write them. It’s the next one hundred or so pages that are tougher for me. And I always end up revising those pages many, many times. It’s a weird writer’s quirk I have, I guess. Maybe I should team up with someone who is great at writing the middle of the story and I can write the beginning and end. Or take a class on how to write the great American middle. Or keep on doing what I’m doing---revise, revise, revise.

I think I read the readers’ comments about twenty times before I decided to gut the middle of my story and pretty much just start over with it. Not totally start over, but rearrange and rewrite and cut, cut, cut. It was a little painful actually, because I’d become attached to the story. Some of my writer friends say they don’t become attached to the story because they inevitably have to change it, but I almost always become attached to the story. I’ll still change it, but it always makes me feel a little sad. Don’t you think it would be fun sometimes to see a writer’s first draft of one of their published books? Just to see how far that manuscript came in the revision process. I know mine would all look very different.

So that’s what I’m doing this week. I am gutting my story middle and hoping the gamble is worth it. Since I’m changing so much I am taking a risk that my readers could come back and say, well, I liked the first version better, or they will tell me that I have a whole new set of problems and revisions to work on because of all the changes. It is a gamble, that’s for sure, but I do trust the process, that, in the end, it will be a stronger story.

Speaking of some of my stronger stories, my new book All’s Fair, will be released on July 1st. Which is on Tuesday—a mere five days away! And in addition to the release being only five short days away, I'm sure you already know, but that particular Tuesday is, of course, CANADA DAY! What a happy coincidence for me since I am Canadian and all.

I am very excited for the All’s Fair release and all the fun PR things that are planned. It’s sort of like the payoff after all the anguish of the revision process and shooting for that stronger story. You get to actually see the book. I can’t wait!

And if I don’t see you on Tuesday, I hope you all have a happy Canada Day. Perhaps you could spend it reading. Is that too broad of a hint? *wink wink*

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Modest is Hottest: Guest Blogger Michele Ashman Bell

Modesty. Not quite a four letter word (it has seven letters) but certainly it seems to have that impact on people. The world, by and large, thinks of modesty as old fashioned, out-of-date, and unnecessary. Members of the church cling to the standard, try to defend their position, yet feel frustration because of it. Personally, I’m tired of seeing Brittany’s rear end, Angelina’s cleavage and Fergie’s navel all over magazines and on the internet. Let’s face it, does anyone look good in a thong bikini? Really?

Why can’t modesty be equated with fun fashion, trendy styles and positive images? In my recent book, A Modest Proposal, I’ve attempted to tackle this subject because I believe it can. In fact, to steal a phrase from wherever I heard it, I believe, “modest is hottest.”
What if most women in the world weren’t built like runway models? (Oh, wait, they aren’t!) What if most women in the world didn’t want to dress like rock stars? (News flash . . . they don’t!) What if a New York designer decided to design clothes that were high fashion and modest? (Okay, this is where the fiction part comes in.) Based on these questions, A Modest Proposal allows these theories to develop. And, as I receive feedback from many moms and daughters, I have discovered that they ring very true. Because it is the truth, most women aren’t built like runway models and most women don’t want to dress like a rock star. But most women DO love fashion and clothes and want options that aren’t revealing or immodest.

So there! It’s out there. I am challenging, no, daring, no, double-dog daring, the fashion designers of the world to take a good look at the every day woman and start designing clothes for them. Them, meaning us!

And it is happening. Finally. Slowly. Wonderful, clever, talented people within the LDS community are finally giving us styles and fashions that fit our need to be modest but stylish. Women everywhere can rejoice!

I actually had a lot of fun writing this story. My daughters have provided me with plenty of practical experience for the story. I dedicated the book to all the moms and daughters who spent time in the dressing rooms crying because they couldn’t find an appropriate dress for prom because I’d been there! I sewed sleeves on my daughter’s dresses. I altered and modified and lengthened and filled in and found creative ways to make clothes modest. And it wasn’t easy! But in the process I’ve taught my daughters that we do have a choice and we not only can stick to our standards, but we can have fun doing it and even make our own fashion statements. As I’ve gone out to promote my book I’ve received opportunities to bring more awareness to the issue. A wonderful company called Beautifully Modest out of Orem, Utah is sponsoring a dress giveaway. The entry form is in the back of my book. Up to a $500.00 value.

With the sponsorship of Covenant Communications, the help of PR and Promotions manager, Rachel Langlois, the vision of stylist Erin Olson of, a wonderful resource for modest fashion, I am hosting a design contest and a modest fashion show at Southtowne Mall, in Sandy, Utah on Saturday, June 28th, at 7:00 p.m.. The winning design will be debuted at the show. The models for the show will be girls who have always wanted the chance to see what it feels like to be in a fashion, but never thought they would. How fun is that!

My dream is to see LDS girls embrace the standard of modesty rather than view it as a curse. Maybe, just maybe, A Modest Proposal can help start this trend because I really do believe “modest is hottest!”

Michele Ashman Bell is the author of twenty books. Visit her website at

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Great Debate

by Robison Wells

As you know, I didn't blog last week. I was away from the daily grind, cloistered in my hermitage and contemplating the course of my life. After much introspection, I have come to a decision: I'd like to declare my candidacy!

Now, I know what you're thinking: the campaign trail can be difficult; it can chew you up and spit you out. It can destroy a young, innocent idealist like me and turn him into an embittered, cantankerous old man.

And, speaking of embittered, cantankerous old men, I'd like to talk a bit about my opponent: Jeff Savage.

Sure, Jeff has been a fine example of virtuous public service (if you consider sloth and avarice to be virtues). But I say that it's time for a change. The people want change, Jeff Savage, and it's high time you delivered! Don't let the door hit you in the backside on your way out.

Jeff has kindly agreed to a debate, and I've asked none other than George Stephanopolous to moderate.

GEORGE: I'd like to welcome both of you candidates here tonight. It's great to have Mr. Wells here--he's a breath of fresh air. And it's nice that Mr. Savage hasn't yet been seen taking any bribes or verbally abusing his staff tonight. We'll start off with opening statements. Mr Wells?

ROB: My fellow Americans, have you ever thought about how great America is? It's pretty great. We have purple mountains majesty above our fruited plains. I think I can conclusively say that, weighing the evidence and keeping all the important factors in mind, America is rad.

JEFF: Here's the thing that I love about America: its food. From the glory of the Philly Cheesesteak to the Coney Island hot dogs to that place in Cincinnati where they put chili on spaghetti.

GEORGE: I'll direct my first question at you, Mr. Savage. It has been said that you're going to change your name from Jeff Savage to J. Scott Savage. Why is this?

JEFF: It's very simple, really. I've discovered that a certain air of regalness is bestowed upon a person who uses an initial and a middle name. For example: F. Scott Fitzgerald. No one liked him back when he was just Francis.

ROB: No one likes him now, either. I mean, The Great Gatsby? More like The Great Crapsby! Am I right George? Am I right?

GEORGE: When you're right you're right, Rob!

ROB: But seriously, folks. According to some baby name website which I just googled, "Jeff" means "peaceful pledge". On the other hand, "Scott" means "From Scotland". In other words, Jeff is not only giving up his pledge to peace, but he's now claiming heritage in some country other than America!

GEORGE: Jeff, do you hate America?

JEFF: No, no, no. You misunderstand me. I never said I hate America. I said that America is kind of awkward at parties and doesn't know how to dance.

GEORGE: And Scotland does know how to dance?

JEFF: Oh yes.

GEORGE: The next question is for Rob. Mr. Wells, it has been said that it would be difficult for a man as attractive as you to serve in public office. How do you respond to that accusation?

ROB: Well, I think I'll turn this question over to Jeff. Jeff, what do you think?

JEFF: Uh...Do I think you're too attractive to serve in public office? Well...

ROB: It appears as though my opponent has a difficult time expressing his thoughts.

GEORGE: Perhaps it's because you're such an attractive man.

ROB: Oh, George! Stop it.

GEORGE: Just sayin'. Anyway, my next question is for Jeff. What's the deal with your next book? Farworld? As in, not America? Seriously, what's the deal?

JEFF: It's metaphor. See, the kid in the wheelchair represents how we in America are crippled by our dependence on foreign oil, and the Water Elemental represents global warming, and the Dark Circle is WalMart.

ROB: Yeah, and the four elements (Water, Air, Land, and Fire) have to work together to defeat the bad guys? Sounds to me like you're a lover of the United Nations.

JEFF: I never said that.

ROB: Also, the first line of the novel mentions an Ishkabiddle. If you rearrange the letters, that spells "communism".

GEORGE: He has a good point there, Jeff.

JEFF: I-- What? Really?

GEORGE: I just unscrambled it here on my paper. I'll show you after the debate.

JEFF: Wow.

GEORGE: I think we have time for a few more questions. Rob, you said once that you don't like baseball. But isn't baseball as American as apple pie?

ROB: I don't like apple pie either, George, unless it has a whole lot of whipped cream on it. But does that mean that I don't like America? Certainly not. It means that I like America better with whipped cream.

GEORGE: Jeff? Rebuttal?

JEFF: How am I supposed to rebutt that?

ROB: Game, set, match.

JEFF: What?

GEORGE: Last question for you, Jeff: why do you keep ignoring the substantive issues? In this debate you haven't mentioned healthcare, defense, Iraq, immigration, Social Security, or judicial activism. Why so silent?

JEFF: You didn't ask me about those things.

ROB: "He that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant."

GEORGE: My feelings exactly, Rob.

JEFF: This all seems a little biased. George.

GEORGE: Your mom seems a little biased, Jeff. Time for closing statements. In haiku, if possible. Jeff?

America, a
vote for me is a vote for
no SASEs

This land is your land
This land is my land, from Ca
Lifornia to Maine

GEORGE: I look forward to election day.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Sneak Peek

This week I don't expect to get a ton of blogging done, as I'm doing some pretty heavy editing for another book and also answering questions for the blog tour.

I know the blog tour doesn't officially begin until next month (which also happens to be next week for those of you without calendars at the ready.) But I had a couple of bloggers ask me if they could post a little early. And being the nice guy that I am, I said, "Why not?" Of course it had nothing to do with being anxious to see what they thought of the book.

So, if you'd like to jump into the tour a little early for a sneak peek at what's coming, you can drop by Anne Bradshaw's, Not Entirely British for her review and contest.

And you can drop by Raych's, books i done read, for a wild game of battleship, words of advice on what to tell your kids when they ask which of your books they can read, some unusual questions and answers, and a contest as well.

Thanks to both of you for taking part in the tour!

Oh, and here's another sneak peek at a picture from Water Keep. If you look really close, you can just make out faces on the trees. Can I say again, what a stud Brandon Dorman is?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Servant to a King (i.e., The Ammon Book)

by Sariah S. Wilson

When Isabel’s father offers her hand to a Nephite, she’s shocked and angry—and when the offer is refused, she’s utterly furious. How dare this Ammon refuse to marry the beautiful eldest daughter of King Lamoni! There could only be one explanation for this unforgivable dishonor: Ammon must be a spy.

Isabel closely watches her enemy, expecting to find evidence of treachery, but instead she finds evidence of loyalty, bravery, and kindness. Afraid to admit her growing affection for Ammon, Isabel hides her true feelings behind a headstrong façade. Yet when the vile Lamanite prince Mahlon threatens to take her as a bride and wrest the kingdom from Lamoni, Isabel must choose between her pride and her life. Meanwhile, the risks of love test Ammon’s faith and courage as never before.

Will Ammon thwart the marriage of Isabel and Mahlon before it’s too late? And could a Lamanite princess and a Nephite prince really live happily ever after?

So here it is - my new book. I just got the cover and apparently it comes out in two weeks.

I have to say I'm loving the back cover copy (the bolded text above). I've never been very good at this sort of thing (and really admire when others can boil a book down to a couple of paragraphs, so big kudos to whomever came up with it), and I think this one makes my book sound pretty exciting! I think I love the last line the best though. Because you know how I am about happily ever afters.

It is currently available for pre-order over at Deseret. This should be the first in a four book series with the sons of Mosiah (although they'll all be stand alones, they will have characters from each of the books making cameos).

But my current work in progress for Covenant is not a Book of Mormon book. I'm trying my hand at a historical romance set in a completely different time period (and another one of my favorite eras). We'll see how that goes. I also have an idea for a contemporary LDS series that I'd love to take a crack at if time ever permits.

And yes, this is my "The Nephite Who Loved Me" book. I still think that title could have worked.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Heart Has Its Reasons

by Kerry Blair (getting by with a little help from her friends)

Sometimes life sneaks up on you. In my case it wasn’t a tornado or a flood or an earthquake or a fire. I am a natural disaster in and of my myself. Enough of one, in fact, to make even something simple and joyful like blogging seem like an insurmountable task of the Herculean variety. As always, when disaster strikes, there was somebody there for me. The world has the Red Cross; I have my family. Every single time disaster looms large (if only in my mind,) my family is first on the scene. Here are two examples: large and small.

Large: When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had no idea how I would navigate the terrifying waters of chemotherapy, especially with my husband living and working hours away from home, my second-oldest son put his life on hold and moved in to care for me, my elderly mother, and the dozen or so critters with which we share our tiny piece of planet. He somehow managed to shop and clean and tend and fetch and carry—and complete a semester of graduate work. He has yet to accept payment, free rent, or even much in the way of gratitude. I don’t know how many young adults could/would handle what he has made look easy, especially on a moment’s notice, but I suspect the number is very small. Miniscule, in fact. In every way he is my hero.

Small: Though I am through the chemo now, my MS is in high gear and I feel like I am living life in a vat of molasses. I can once again do everything I ever could, but it takes quadruple the effort to produce a quarter the speed. Not to whine (oops! too late for that!) but here are times when walking across the room seems as difficult to me as running a marathon might to you. (Unless you’re Jeff, then it’s a piece of cake.) So, last night at about nine o'clock I pushed myself up from the table where I’d been playing a game with a visiting nephew and said, “I need to write a blog.”

My daughter, who is working here this summer to help relieve her older brother in his mothersitting duties, took one glance at me and decided I looked not only like death warmed-over, but death warmed-over-then-left-out-on-the-counter-about-nine-hours-too-long.

“What’s the subject?” she said.

I told her I had planned to blog about why I write. (Or don’t write, as the case may be.)

“I’ll guest blog,” she decided. “Go to bed.”

Ten minutes later, the blog was on my computer and I was asleep.

I read it this morning and realized that Hilary captured much of what I feel about writing in her reasons for teaching – and said it better than I ever could. Like me and Julie, this is a girl who dreamed of many life-paths as a child. She considered veterinary medicine, zoology, and even (or especially) becoming a professional editor. (She’s been finding errors in my books since she was twelve.) She finally settled on teaching. This is why.

There is a Reason I Will Teach

by Hilary Blair

Last week I attended an annual conference held by NAU’s College of Education: “There’s a Reason I’m a Teacher.” It consisted of several workshops and speeches by the national and Arizona teachers of the year. Although I was annoyed that several of my instructors required me to attend, being the dutiful student that I am, I went. At the end, I was glad I did.

My biggest fear about teaching is not the little monsters . . . er . . . I mean angels . . . I will teach. It’s not the incredibly long and difficult test I have to take to become certified. It’s not working with the other teachers and parents, even though this is what my instructors have told me is the worst part of the job. I worry about the time I will go for my first interview at an elementary school and the interviewer will ask, “So, why do you want to teach?”

I will freeze. My eyes will get huge. I will hyperventilate. Then I will run out of the room, never able to fulfill my dream.

I really, really, really want to become a teacher. I know that.
I just don’t know why. (It’s certainly not for the money).

The typical answers given at the conference by other education majors were: I like kids. I want a better future. I want to teach the next president of the United States. (Really. Someone said this.) To inspire others. Because teaching is the hope of the world. To help just one person. A teacher really helped me when I was in school; I feel I need to pay that forward.

My reason?

All of these. When a child you’ve been working with “gets it” for the first time, their smile lights up the world. I will help prepare the future mechanics, engineers, doctors, military personnel, mothers, fathers, teachers, business professionals and, heck, maybe even a president.

I am not going to be a well-paid babysitter. I am going to be a teacher. A sculptor of young minds – the leaders of tomorrow.

I will know each of my students as individuals, and I will know my class as a whole. I will know their interests and hope to inspire even more. I can’t do everything for the world, but I can’t do nothing.

There IS a reason I will be a teacher.

The son I mentioned earlier is also a teacher. I think you’ll agree that with young men and women like Jake and Hilary preparing themselves today, the future is looking much brighter indeed.

But why have they chosen to teach when there are so many better-paying, less life-engulfing options? Perhaps for the same reasons we write when there are so many better-paying, less life-engulfing activities in the world from which to choose.

Possibly only only Blaise Pascal knew the answer. He summed up his reason for writing thusly:

The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Is Writing Your Calling?

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I was listening with interest to a discussion about whether being a writer can be a calling in life. Something you were born to do. One author said that she knew it was a calling for her because she constantly felt opposition when she was writing. Another author said that she had known for as long as she could remember that she was supposed to be a writer, and knew that she would be able to influence others for good through her writing.

As I listened to the discussion, I began to ask myself: Is writing a calling for me?

It’s a hard call to make from the discussion criteria. For instance, I’ve never really felt opposition when I’m writing. Of course, I have six children so I have a lot of interruptions and my writing time is limited. But can I count that as opposition? I don’t really think so.

I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer. I’ve written stories since I was in second grade and I love telling stories. But does it really count when I also wanted to be a teacher, ballerina, doctor, archaeologist AND a writer?

So let’s say my calling in life is not as a writer, can I still be a writer? And are people who believe they are called to be writers, better than average writers?

I definitely think that there is a writer in everyone. Everyone has a unique point of view and a different way to express it. And, in today's world, there are so many opportunities for every type of writer---from books to blogs. It's easy to spot those who are good at expressing themselves and have found a writing "home" where they hone their craft. But did they feel it was a calling from the start? Maybe or maybe not, because you can learn the craft of writing and make improvements no matter where you start in the writing process. For me, I don't think that you necessarily need a "calling" to be a good writer. But it begs the question: if you don't feel writing is a calling for you, are you somehow less obligated to do it than a writer who feels they have a calling for it? How do you know for sure if it's your calling or not?

I think the differentiating line comes because those who feel that they were given a calling seem to have a special relationship with writing. As one author put it, “It was just always my instinct to do it, if that makes sense. As soon as I could pick up a pen and make words with it, my brain did the rest.” She felt like she was born to write and part of me really identified with her. I love seeing words come together and flow into a story and it’s always been that way.

But does that count as a calling?

I truly love writing, but even after some thought, I still haven’t decided if writing is really a calling for me. Writing is something I feel passionate about and it is something I need---and have since I was a child. I use it to relax and it is the one place where I can let my imagination roam. I think I’m a better person and a better mother when I’m writing, because I have something that is mine, that stretches my mind and helps me keep learning. I also love sharing my stories with others, but honestly, I don’t know if it was something I was given a life calling to do. There seems to be a fine line somewhere along the way. Yet, even if writing isn’t a calling for me, I don’t think I could give it up. I wouldn’t want to, anyway.

I’d really like to hear what you think. Is writing really a calling? Can you spot writers who have received the calling as opposed to writers who have not? Do you know it's a calling after you are successful at it or before? What has your experience been? Do you feel you have a calling in life to be a writer?

P.S. I forgot to announce the winner of my contest from last week! *drum roll please*

Elizabeth Hall! You are now the proud owner of my new book, All's Fair. I will be contacting you for mailing information shortly. Thank you to everyone who participated!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Summertime . . . When the Livin' is Easy. Not.

Sorry about the lack of blog today. Summer vacation hasn't been very laid-back vacation-y thus far, and in a few minutes I'm off to the dentist so he can check a tooth that's been hurting off and on ever since I got a filling replaced last week.

Sorry to shirk my blogging duty today, but if you're lucky, Orville Redenbacher Wells might post something later seeing as how he, like, spaced the fact that he was supposed to blog yesterday.

So who's lamer? Me for knowing I should blog and not doing it, or Rob for forgetting? Discuss.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Forged in the Refiner's Fire

Several years ago, I wrote a novel called “Into the Fire.” It was a work of fiction based on a modern day retelling of the story of Job. It was interesting to hear the feedback I received. Some people didn’t want to read the novel at all because it sounded too depressing. Others started the book, but after realizing it wasn’t a thriller like “Cutting Edge” quickly put it down.

But then I began receiving the letters and e-mails from people who had gone through terribly difficult trials in their lives. It was both uplifting and heartbreaking to hear how they related to the novel and how it helped them through difficult times in their lives. After reading those kinds of messages, I realized why I’d felt so strongly moved to write a novel that wasn’t my typical style.

When Candace asked me to review Forged in the Refiner’s Fire, I experienced many of those same emotions again. Did I really want to read a book about other people’s trials? Especially considering these were real people with real problems? Isn’t there enough of those kinds of things on the news? Well I knew if I said no, Alvin would come over to my house and beat me. (Just kidding. Candace’s husband is one of the sweetest people I know. Even if he could crush me like a breadstick.)

As soon as I opened the book and began reading the stories, I remembered the messages I’d received. Just like the letters, these weren’t stories of people groveling in the miseries of their hardships. They weren’t asking for sympathy. On the contrary, they were sharing valuable lessons that could have been learned in perhaps no other way. Over and over again I read the words of people expressing gratitude for trials that are more difficult than anything I’ve ever imagined in my fiction. I heard people say that although, they would never have asked for their particular challenge, they wouldn’t change it if they had the choice.

From a woman who nearly dies after being smashed by a horse, to a woman struggling with prescription pain medicine addiction, to Merrill Osmond who took a huge personal risk and raised over two million dollars to have the Tabernacle Choir perform for President Regan’s inauguration, only to see the entire program canceled at the last minute; these are stories that make you almost not dare to turn the page. And yet you have to, because at the end of each story, the reader is reminded once again that the Lord truly does watch over each of us. In fact, my favorite part of each story might have been the section at the end, where the person writing tells us what he or she took away from the experience.

These are a wide variety of stories, told from the point of view of the person who experienced them. The voices are different, the writing styles are different, and the accounts are very different. But taken together, they tell a story we all need to be reminded of. In the words of the account titled F.R.O.G.S; in order to not only survive or trials, but also grow from them, we must “fully rely on God’s son.”

These are a well written group of stories. Cleanly edited. Long enough to pull the reader in, but short enough that you can easily go through one or two before going to bed at night. Each story starts with a great quote about facing adversity. The authors, Candace Salima and Elizabeth A Cheever, have done a wonderful job of gathering and editing these stories as well as sharing their own personal stories. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who occasionally needs a reminder that they aren’t going through the trials of this earth alone.

After reading this wonderful novel, I had a chance to ask Candace a few questions. Here are her responses.

Q: You’ve written both fiction and non fiction. Which do you find easier/more enjoyable and why?

I enjoy writing both fiction and nonfiction. I find nonfiction easier because it is simply a matter of research and then figuring out how to write it in a fascinating manner that will draw people in. Fiction, on the other hand, requires you to com with an entire story, based on reality, but doing anything you want to further the story as long as it follows the rules you’ve set up in the beginning. That being said, I’m working on two fiction books and two nonfiction books right now and find that when I’m stuck on one then I simply pop on over to another story and get to work. It’s fun and refreshing. Keeps things moving along.

Q: I believe this is the first book you’ve co-written. How was that experience? How did you and Elizabeth connect with each other in the first place?

I can’t say I’m particularly fond of co-writing, even though I am now in the middle of a third book written with just that scenario. But Elizabeth was a dream to work with. We had the same thoughts, goals and purposes for this book and found that they streamlined nicely. She wrote the introductory chapter, providing the foundation for the following stories. I agreed to write the concluding chapter, tying the concept up entirely. Forged in the Refiner’s Fire was an inspiring book to compile, write and complete.

Initially, Elizabeth Cheever and I met at the first LDS Storymakers Conference held in Springville, Utah in the spring of 2004. April, I think. She is 6’4” and I am 5’10”. We sat in the front row because we tall girls need to stick together. It was there we found we were kindred spirits. This naturally lead to us partnering on Forged in the Refiner’s Fire.

Q: Typically adversity is not something people like to talk about. It’s almost like if you discuss it out loud it might find you. What made you decide to write about it?

Elizabeth and I have been through some pretty trying times in our lives. Often people become so bogged down in their trials and tragedies they forget to look to the heavens for that unwavering love and support available to all of us. Elizabeth initially approached me, but there was something about the concept that wouldn’t let go of me. Although I was very busy I agreed to the do the book because the Refiner’s Fire is a truth which must be told over and over so people won’t forget. Trials are going to find us, no matter who we are, whether we’re rich or poor, thin or fat . . . it doesn’t matter, they are simply a part of life. I felt strongly, as did Elizabeth, that we wanted to do this to help other work their way through these times of trouble and draw closer to the Lord in the process.

Q: I know that you and Alvin have gone through a lot of adversity yourselves. If you had read Forged in the Refiner’s Fire, before you faced your own refiner’s fire, what would have done differently?

I would have remembered that other people are going through equally, if not more, trying times. I would remember how they turned to the scriptures, the hymns, to music and to God to pull themselves through those times. Feelings of camaraderie developed in the writing and compiling of this book and those would have, and have, strengthened through the most difficult times. And, as obnoxious as it sounds, I would remember that others trials were far worse than my own.

Q: How did you find the people to interview? Were people hesitant at all to discuss their own difficulties? If so, how to you work around that?

Elizabeth and I sent out emails to every single person we knew. Family, friends and peers and asked them to the do the same. Those who expressed interest in contributing a story were given a series of questions and guides to help them write the story. We looked for stories where people had gone through the darkest of times and still came out of it ahead of the game, so to speak. Those who drew closer to the Lord through their trials, in particular, were the ones we looked for.

And yes, some people were hesitant, but we were flooded with stories and had to turn many away.

Q: What story touched you most?

Hazel Jensen’s story touched me the most. When she wrote of her horse rearing up and falling backwards on her, crushing her pelvis, her strength and courage literally blew me away. I remember thinking, “Crud, what we’re going through is nothing compared to Hazel.” Interestingly enough, when she read the story of my miscarriage she wrote me and she felt like she shouldn’t have submitted hers after reading what I had gone through. Ironically, I felt the same after reading hers. And yes, there is a lesson in that. When we share the difficulties we suffer in life, they almost always give others the strength to continue on.

Incidentally, Hazel has had to have multiple back surgeries, as late as last year, to continue the repair on her back. And I met her at an LDS Storymakers Writers Conference too. She’s a delight woman and a marvelous artist.

Q: Were their any stories you felt you just couldn’t put in print?

Yes, there were several stories where the people were so mired in their trials, tragedies and sorrows that they could not see the forest for the trees, so to speak. They were dark and depressing and not what we were striving for at all. Interestingly, the stories we did choose were people who suffered far worse than the ones we turned away, and they were also the ones who turned to God to get through those times. It was difficult to tell these people that their stories didn’t fit the criteria for our book, when in all honesty, they were about having the courage to believe in Jesus Christ and His ability to heal the pain in our hearts and souls.

Q: What do you hope people walk away thinking after finishing your book?

They are not alone. They were never intended to walk this mortal path alone. I want each reader to remember that they are part of this great brotherhood we call mankind. And because of that we have a common ancestry which can lead us to a common goal and destination. I want them to remember that no matter what they go through others have gone through it or worse and have come out stronger, better and more faithful servants of God. There is always hope, because Jesus Christ lives. And because He lives we have those who believe in Him who will lift you up until you can stand on your own.

I'd like to thank both of these talented women for this wonderful book. You can find more information at:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Perfect Fathers Day

I am actually taking part in Candace Salima's blog tour today. I'll be posting a review of her book shortly. Hopefully with some Q&A. But I actually wanted to post this Sunday and didn't get to it. So I'll predate it for Sunday and do my blog tour later this evening. Thanks.


I had an interesting thought occur to me yesterday as my kids brought me breakfast and fun gifts. (I especially liked my eight-year-old’s coupon for a car wash. He amended it by saying that I couldn’t use it until he was big enough to actually wash the car—say twelve or so. But he’d be happy to cash it in for teaching me to play Warcraft 3.)

Actually my wife and I don’t make such a big deal out of traditional holidays like Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Valentine’s Day. We prefer to do fun gifts or dates for each other when we feel like it. Not when the calendar says we have to. We especially like going on shopping sprees the day after holidays.

Nevertheless, my kids spent the days leading up to Fathers Day asking me what I wanted them to give me. I was not only thinking about what I wanted from my kids, but what I was going to do for my own father. And suddenly a thought struck me with such force, I could barely believe it hadn’t occurred to me before.

Growing up—and even being a grown up for that matter—I’ve always wanted to impress my parents. Impress may be the wrong word. But I think you know what I’m talking about. Most of us have someone in life we want to please. It could be a parent/s. It could be a mentor. A spouse. A loved one. A boss. It’s the person we go to when we do something good and say, “Hey, look what I accomplished.”

Throughout my life, there are certain times I’ve been really excited to tell my parents what I accomplished. The big job. Publishing my first book. Buying my first house. Getting a promotion. Completing a marathon. These are the moments when you get to say, “Look! I’m not a complete screw-up after all.” All this time, I’ve just assumed those are the moments when my parents would be most proud of me.

But yesterday, I was thinking about the things I wanted my own children to accomplish, and I realized those aren’t the things I care about at all. Yes, I’ll be happy for my kids if they get a good paying job. But I’ll be much happier if they love the job they have and do it well. I could care less about how big their house is. But I care a lot about how they treat their spouse and children. It doesn’t matter to me if they follow in my footsteps and write books near as much as it matters how they treat other people.

Maybe this makes me odd, but I’m much prouder of my kids when I hear they are the ones who befriend the less popular kids than I am if they score a winning touchdown or get the lead in the play. I give my son crap for missing curfew without calling me. But I can’t help smiling (at least when he’s not around) when I find out it’s because one of the kids at his school ran out of gas and he took him to get some.

There’s a good chance my kids won’t read this today. (Come on, really, what kid reads her father’s blog?) But I save my posts in a book that they’ll probably come across one day. And when they do, I want them to know that what I want for this Fathers Day and the Fathers Days to come, is knowing that my children are the good guys (and gals) in the world.

When other parents say, “My son is a brain surgeon with a huge house and a new BMW”, I want to be able to respond with, “My daughter took care of her neighbor’s children when she was sick.” And “My son always holds the door open for people and stops to help motorists whose cars have broken down.” I know it probably sounds lame, but if I can have that, every day will be the perfect Fathers Day.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

I Heart Shannon Hale, Not to Mention Booksellers

by Sariah S. Wilson

My first experience with Shannon Hale was through "Princess Academy." Loved it. Loved the way she conveyed so much with so few words. You've read my blogs. You know I'm much more Stephenie Meyer than Shannon Hale when it comes to writing. Brevity and sparse-but-rich is unfortunately not my thing (wordy is more me). But I immensely admire it in others. I also love Hale's touch of magic in her stories, and the recreation of fairy tales (something I've always wanted to do).

So of course I was excited to read "Austenland," Hale's latest intended for grown-ups. It helps, of course, that I am one of those people who have the "Pride & Prejudice" DVD and audio CD and a few copies of the book. (I'm not, however, obsessed with Jane Austen. I know enough, but I'm far more interested in her writing than I am with the author.) So the premise of this was fantastic - a woman gets a trip to England where she has the "Pride & Prejudice" experience. She gets to live in the house, eat the food, be treated as a special guest, wear the fantastic clothes (and for the record, why can't we get empire waistlines back? Do women not realize how amazing they make everyone look?), and get courted by the Austen heroes. There's a Mr. Bingley, a Mr. Darcy and a Captain Wentworth (with different names, of course).

There were some twists in the end that shocked me (as they shocked the heroine), and I was actually afraid that the heroine would make the wrong choice. (She didn't. Yay!)

But the absolute BEST part of this novel for me the language. Hale wrote a character that speaks like I speak. She put things in her novel that I've been afraid to write in my manuscripts intended for a national market. Because I think there's this perception that if you're LDS, you're not allowed to say/think certain things. (I'm even afraid to reprint any of them here.)

One thing I loved was that she begins each chapter with a description of her past boyfriends and how things went wrong. The very short and very terse description of one boyfriend in particular had me laughing out loud (not something I typically do while reading).

It made me think that I might have to try and come out next year for Storymakers if she's going just so I can meet her, because after reading this book, I'm pretty sure I'd like hanging out with her.

Speaking of Storymakers, I got invited out to the LDS Booksellers Convention this year (I think it's okay to reveal that because I've been invited and I've accepted and spent an unseemly amount of money on a plane ticket to Utah).

It's fun because every year I beg for pictures and recaps (which only LDS Publisher seems to do without fail) so this year I'll be the one telling everybody what it's like to go for the very first time.

I'm excited. Especially since Traci Abramson has already said she'll hang out with me so I don't make a fool of myself.

For those authors who have already been to Booksellers - any dos/don'ts/helpful hints you'd like to pass along to a first-timer?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Questions From a New Author -- Guest Blog: W. Dave Free

Given the experience, skills, and wit of those who usually write here, I’ve stressed considerably about what I might add to the conversation. My first books were published just last month and, frankly, I have more questions about the business of writing than answers at this point. So rather than just providing fodder for the identification of additional grammatical pet peeves (I’m pretty good at dangling participles,) I thought I’d use the opportunity to ask some questions.

Is it possible to publish a book without errors? It was more than a little disappointing to discover my book wasn’t perfect. We certainly tried beforehand to make it perfect -- countless revisions, lengthy editing discussions (around vitally important words like bison and dude) and even a last minute cover change. All that effort and within five minutes of handing my first copy to my wife, she pointed out a fairly significant error. I love my wife. Needless to say, I took it pretty hard. My first thought was, “All that work wasted.” Thankfully, even imperfect books sell. Next time I’ll work harder to avoid errors and try to bask in the glow of being published for at least an hour before handing my wife a copy.

How many other hats do I need to wear? As has so eloquently been stated on this blog, being published is just the beginning. I’m quickly learning that a successful writer is also a publicist, lecturer, marketer, sales person, and probably several others I haven’t realized yet . . .

How can I ever thank my family and friends? I did my first book signing last Saturday. I was a little worried about sitting all alone behind that desk, watching customers walk by with their eyes diverted. So, it was nice to see familiar face after familiar face come by for a signed copy. Their kind reviews and encouragement throughout the process kept me going. I know that readership has to extend beyond family and friends, but it’s been a great place to start.

How do I maintain the balance? I now understand that being a successful writer is more than just the creative process of writing a good story. I don’t resent the business side of the equation. I know that it is necessary and hope to become very good at it. What worries me is the time it requires. How does a successful writer handle all the aspects of the business and still find the time to create?

And finally, why does counting books take six months? In an age where you can track the travels of a great white shark in near real time:
pay all your bills without writing a single check, and/or watch a movie on your phone, it still takes publishers six months to add up how many books were sold and mail you a check?

Something smells fishy here and it’s not the great white.

If you haven't already read Journey of the Heart and/or read Jee's Bones to your kids, let me be the first to recommend them! I don't know what the W in his name stands for, but it might be Wonderfully Witty, Wise Writer. For sure he is destined to be a bright new star in the firmament of LDS fiction. (And, remember, you met him here first! Well, some of you did . . .)
You can read more about Dave -- as well as excerpts from his books -- HERE!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

On the Way to Market

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I met with my publisher’s marketing team yesterday and I must say, I am very impressed. I brought the ideas that I had and they brought the ideas that they had, and then we talked for two hours about the best way to market my new book, “All’s Fair,” that is coming out in just over two weeks! (It thrills me to say that because it’s taken almost two years to get this book here. I might just say it again---My new book is coming out in just over two weeks! Can you see the big grin on my face?)

So, today, out of curiosity, I would like to ask the reading public of Six LDS Writers and a Frog Blog, a few marketing questions.

  • I think one of the fun things about having a new book out, is doing a contest for it. I plan to do one on my website, but I’m really looking for ideas on a fun contest. What kind of contest do you like doing? Quizzes? Just your name in a hat? Sign up two friends for my e-letter? Write a short story? Trivia stuff? Give me some ideas for a contest, will you? I need help. Also, do you like the prize to be the newest release? Or a choice of any of the books the author has written?

  • Blog tours are the big thing right now, it seems, and I do have one set up, however, I’m wondering: What do you think of blog tours?

  • Some people have the first chapter of a new book available for download on their websites. Do you download that, knowing it’s just the first chapter? Would you rather have more than one chapter? Or nothing at all, you’ll just wait to buy it?

  • Do you like bookmarks that are more paper feeling or cardstock? Do you use bookmarks at all?

  • How much stock do you put in reviews of the book? If the reviewer is all glowing and says nothing but good about the book, does that discount it for you? If there is some criticism of the book, does that prevent you from buying it?

  • Do you go to booksignings? If so, do you prefer that the author have candy on the table for you to eat while you’re looking at the book? Does it matter if it’s chocolate or not?

As the author of five published books now, you would think that this would become old hat, but oddly, I really like this phase of it. I’m excited about the things we have planned and to finally see the book finished and in my hands.

And just to show you how appreciative I am of you, the reading public, answering all of my questions above, I will make this my first All’s Fair contest. For everyone who answers all the questions in the comments section, I will put your name in a hat and draw the lucky winner of my brand spanking new Julie Coulter Bellon book.

Sounds “fair” to me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Different Strokes

by Stephanie Black

Yesterday, I finished the second draft of my work-in-progress, a contemporary suspense novel. This novel is more of a straight mystery than my previous novels, so I'll be dealing with the balancing issues involved in setting the stage for the revelation of the villain, while not making things too obvious. Nothing worse than having a reader say, "I had it figured out on page five."

I printed the book out and will now read it straight through, making notes on problems that I find. Reading a manuscript rapidly, start to finish, gives me a far different perspective than reading it a fragment at a time as I write it. For one thing, story events seem to happen much closer together. A read-through is vital for judging pacing and emotional consistency.

I’m excited about this book. It’s coming together, but there are still a lot of holes. I haven’t nailed some critical backstory, the characterization needs work, the writing could be a lot stronger, and so on. No one else has seen the manuscript yet. It’s not ready to debut on the critiquing scene.

In the same way that different writing methods work for different people, I think different critiquing methods work for different people. I hear a lot of praise for critique groups, and I think they’re awesome. But I don’t know if I could ever join a group where I’d be expected to bring pages from my work-in-progress each week and have them critiqued. For me, writing a novel is such an ever-changing process that if I tried to have my early work on a novel evaluated, it would probably go something like this:

Critiquer: I read your pages and, um, I’m a little confused. You started out with Sally being John’s sister’s friend, but then she’s actually John’s sister and there is no friend.

Me: I realized it would make a stronger, more tightly woven story if I eliminated the friend and gave her pivotal plot actions to the sister.

C: You might want to make chapter one reflect that.

Me: I’ll do it in the next draft.

C: Okay. Anyway, here I went through this scene line-by-line and marked where you used repetitive sentence structures. Also, you used too many adverbs and ellipses. Everything happened “ . . . quietly.”

Me: I’m actually planning to chuck that whole scene, because I realized writing it from the villain’s POV gives too much away.

C: I spent two hours critiquing that scene last night. I missed American Idol.

Me: Sorry.

C: Well . . . okay. Just a few more things. I found the character of Joe to be flat. He doesn’t seem to have any personality. I wrote a list of suggestions for ways to flesh out him out. For instance, you could—

Me: I replaced him with a potted plant in chapter ten.

C: I hate you.

Don’t misunderstand me. I desperately need outside feedback in order to write a good novel. My test readers have proven themselves invaluable in pointing out problems. But until I’ve woven the basic story—which will definitely take at least two full drafts—giving parts of my book to readers for critique would waste everyone’s time. For my current WIP, three is the magic number. After I complete draft three, I’ll send the book out for feedback and will pay careful attention to what my readers tell me.

So what kind of critiques work best for you?

Minnesota: Currently Giving 106%

by Robison Wells

I know it may seem to you like I'm posting this a day late, but I'm actually not. I'm now in Minnesota, which is a different time zone. Just trust me on this.

As mentioned earlier, I'm interning with ConAgra Foods, marketing Orville Redenbacher. My entire life is popcorn. The one exception: yesterday I sat through nine hours of focus groups, watching on the other side of the mirror while teenagers talked about Slim Jims. So, my life is 90% popcorn and 10% meat snacks.

And, about 4% is looking at the weather, wondering if I'm going to die. I've never before lived in a place with scary weather. In Utah, there's always the fear that your car will slide in the snow, or that your air conditioner will break in the summer and you'll cook like a roasted hot dog. But, in Minnesota, the weather is spooky.

Our first day after arriving here, I was happily puttering about the apartment, when I heard a loud noise. My first thought was that it was a fire alarm coming from an adjoining unit, but it seemed too loud for that--and it wasn't going away. So I ventured down the hall to look for the source of the sound, and was surprised to find that it was louder outside than in. It was an air raid siren--the Germans were bombing us! (Well, that or a tornado.)

I had no idea what to do when the tornado sirens blow, so I consulted the internet. Get down in the basement, wikipedia told me, into an interior room. Put blankets on top of yourself, and a mattress if possible. Well, I like to think of myself as a rather cool cucumber, and I'm not the type to get all freaked out with mattresses. So, we just huddled up in the hallway, surrounded by a little fort of quilts, pillows and couch cushions.

Actually, that's what my wife and kids did, and I sat around the corner, watching the radar on the news. I've watched my fair share of TV weather, but I've never seen a more frightening image. Of course, as you know, the edges of the storm were green, then yellow, then orange, and then red. In Utah, things never get to the red stage. They rarely get to orange. But this thing didn't even stop with red. In the center of the red was a massive white and black clot, moving quickly--directly toward me!

So, I peeked out the window to see if I could see it coming. And, do you know what I saw instead? The neighbor, casually carrying in his groceries from his car, without a care in the world.

Well, the storm came and went and we didn't get sucked up to Oz. The tornado never fully developed, though there was some fierce hail that dented the roof of my car. Now I'm not sure what to think about Minnesota weather. Other than the occassional tornado, it's idyllic. 70 degree days, sun, a little breeze. But everyone also keeps saying that we got here at the perfect time. "Just after the snow and just before the mosquitos," they say. I don't know what to think.

Anyway, one more Minnesota story:

Two days after arriving in Minnesota--the day after the tornado warning--I had to fly to Omaha. Erin dropped me at the airport, we said goodbye, and she drove away. It was while I was going through the metal detectors at the security gate, emptying my pockets, that I discovered I had the key to the apartment.

On the drive over, my wife had casually mentioned that she forgot her phone.

And I don't think I've ever felt so completely helpless. I knew a grand total of zero people in Minnesota. We'd been to church that morning, but I didn't have anyone's phone number. We're subleasing the apartment from another tenant (who has temporarily moved to New York), so I don't even know the manager's name. As you can imagine, it was quite frustrating.

This blog is too long already, and I don't really feel like explaining how the situation was fixed. But suffice it to say that my wife is smart. And, when she finally got into the apartment, my two-year-old son accidentally locked himself in the bedroom for a couple of hours.

So, it's been one of those weeks. 90% popcorn, 10% meat snacks, 4% weather watching and 2% getting locked in (and out).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The "Magic" Kingdom

What does it tell you about the last few days that it’s after ten at night and I’m just getting to today’s blog? No, it doesn’t tell you I’m a lazy goof off who just got back from Disneyland! What gave you that idea? Oops, sorry. Let me just take off the Mickey ears. Actually I’ve been busy answering questions for the blog tour. I’ve been visiting places like Hawaii, Narnia, Water Keep, and playing Call of Duty 4.

Among the questions I’ve answered include how I name my creatures, what my worst job was, and if I wet the bed as a child. Entertaining, one and all. This really is going to be a blast.

Anyway, in honor of spending way too many hours at the land Mickey built, I thought I’d post about how everything I know about writing I learned at Disneyland.

Start on Main Street. Don’t give me flashbacks, dream sequences, or flowery descriptions. Put me on the road to a great story and give me something I want to follow.

The best cruises include plenty of laughs. Laughter is a great way to keep me interested.
Why do so many stories have a comic sidekick? Because laughter breaks up the tension, makes me like the characters, and gives me a change of pace. But please, come up with something better than the backside of water.

Immerse me in your world. Walt Disney hated to see a cowboy walking through Tomorrowland or a yodeler in Adventureland. That’s why he built tunnels under Disneyworld. When I was in Frontierland, I watched a mayor stump for election in front of the saloon, rode a steam ship past Indian villages, and listened to a band of fiddle/banjo/guitar playing fools while I gnawed on a giant turkey leg. Give me the sights, smells, and sounds that make your world real for me.

Don’t ever, ever, ever, let me get bored—even when you are trying to move the story along. Yes, I need to get from point A to point B. But keep me entertained. Disneyland has thousands of storylines. You need a bare minimum of three per novel. And preferably more.

Thrills are key but setting makes it all come together. Yes, the tower of Terror is scary. But why? Just down the road apiece is a ride with a bigger drop and a faster ascent. Why is it not as scary? Because you scare the bejeebers out of me before I even get on the elevator with the creepy rooms, weird sounds, and the whole Twilight Zone story. By the time I start going up in the elevator, I am primed to scream my head off. Never create a setting just to make a place. Use every scene to create the mood you need.

Bring back favorite characters, but keep the story growing. I love Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s my all time favorite ride. But I have to admit, I was pretty darn excited to try out the new Finding Nemo submarine ride. In a series, book two needs to keep the story growing and be bigger and better than book one. But don’t jettison the old favorites.

And finally, Dole Whip is the food of the gods. I don’t know for sure how that relates to writing, but I think I ate my weight in Dole Whip. Ummmm.

So what writing or reading tips have you learned at a Disney park?

Saturday, June 07, 2008

End of a Series

by Sariah S. Wilson

I've found a new publishing pet peeve. The premature death of a book series.

I know in some cases, such as Robert Jordan, it can't be helped because the author actually did die. Brandon Sanderson is going to step up and finish Jordan's last book. Jordan left copious notes, some scenes, and there's the information he shared with family members. But even then, it won't be the same. Even if Sanderson can perfectly mimic Jordan's voice, as a writer I know how you can plan to do one thing and have it go totally out the window once you start writing. One of my favorite TV writers, Winnie Holzman (My So-Called Life), talked about "what would have happened" had the series been continued. She listed some things she had tentatively planned on doing, but then commented that it was no guarantee that that's what she would have actually done, that part of writing is the discovery on how the story moves and twists on its own.

So while I'm sure Sanderson will do an amazing job, the book will not be the same if Jordan had been able to write it himself.

Then I had a series I was invested in. I've posted about it before. It's "Enchanted, Inc." by Shanna Swendson. It had an awesome premise - woman in New York discovers that magic is real, and she's very valuable because she's immune to all magic - doesn't have a single spark of in it her. That means in business deals no one can get away with shady contracts or corporate espionage (she can see through invisibility spells) and it means no bad guys can do any magic on her at all. She has a great love interest - the head of R&D of new spell development (wizards in this world use magic the way we load software onto a computer). There's an overall plotting madman who stirs up all kinds of trouble in each book. In Book 4 they've just caught the bad guy, the hero and heroine have admitted that they really like each other, and we discover that there's an even worse bad guy out there.

And that's it. The publisher has dropped the series and now I won't ever get to find out what's happened.

But I can't decide what's worse. A series that is cut too short, or one that is added on to. Like "Scarlett" by Alexandra Ripley. "Gone With the Wind" probably didn't need a sequel. And I'm of the opinion that Rhett would never have returned to Scarlett, regardless of the circumstances.

Or I've read quite a few continuations of "Pride and Prejudice." No matter how they try to mimic the wit and wording, there's only one Jane Austen. I've never been able to get into these books either. I want to. I love P&P. I love the idea of there being more story or of reading about Kitty falling in love or someone seeing Mary's true worth. But for some reason it just isn't the same.

It's making me hesitant to get involved in any new series now. As an author, I know writing a series is a good thing because if you get enough people loving your writing, they'll be anxiously awaiting your next one. I didn't much like "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," but darned if I didn't go out and buy Book 4 in hardback because I couldn't wait for three months to get it from my library and I wanted to know how it all ended (and yay for Lena & Kostos working it out!).

I'm the same way with television. I love the idea of being there at the beginning of a phenomenon (hello, Buffy the Vampire Slayer!), but I also hate getting involved in a show only to have it pulled out from underneath me (Aliens in America, Miss Guided and Moonlight, I hardly knew ye). Thank heavens for being able to rent whole seasons now. It's how I fell in love with Veronica Mars (despite the not-so-goodness of the third season, I am hoping to get graphic novels from it). I plan on watching Firefly and Friday Night Lights this way. It almost seems easier to watch it after the fact than fall in love with it and lose it without ever knowing how it will end.

It's the same way with books. I didn't get into Harry Potter until after Book 4 had come out. I'm worried about getting involved with a series that might get cancelled or be indefinitely postponed. I suppose I have book commitment issues.

So, to series or not to series? Have you ever had a favorite series end too early? Or a favorite book given a sequel that you wish hadn't ever happened? Do you write series? Or do you like writing single titles better than a series?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Dreams Do Come True -- Guest Blog by Jeri Gilchrist

by Jeri Gilchrist

As a child I discovered a worn blue folder with RING in bold letters on the front. It was a book that my father ~ my hero ~ had written, but never published. I was awestruck! My dream to become a writer began there with that precious book .
Back then, I was filled with crazy dreams and a wild imagination. I discovered I could go anywhere in the world and do anything I wanted by making up stories. What a wonderful pastime!
I had to grow up. My pretend world was set aside for that thing called reality. But at night I would tell my boys bedtime stories filled with action, suspense, humor, and even a little romance. We would escape to far away places and have adventures galore.
My second son, Bryan, was born with focal displasia. At the age of three he had to have a brain resection. The experience, although trying and testing beyond anything I thought I could endure, actually brought me closer to my Savior and strengthened my testimony.
About a year after the surgery, I met Kerry Blair at a book signing. Before I knew it, I'd confessed my dream: I wanted to be a writer. She said that if I could tell a really good story, with some hard work I could write a really good book. But where to start? I had little self-confidence and virtually no training or experience. Kerry's response was, "How will you know what you can do until you try?"
At this same time my angel mother was diagnosed with cancer. My heart was broken. Each month after she had her chemo treatments I would stay with her for a few days to help her through the worse part while my dad worked. Many friends and family members sacrificed to make this possible ~ especially my husband Brad and oldest son, Tyler. Thanks to them all, it was an incredible time for me.
While my mother slept, I went into their office to write. In the evenings when my father came home, we discussed what I'd written that day. My parents were wonderful about offering their thoughts and ideas.
Writing a novel was a long and often seemingly insurmountable process. I could scarcely turn on a computer, so I wrote the book by hand. I was six notebooks into it before I was finally willing to attempt to learn to type ~ and use a computer. Until I discovered back-up disks, I lost everything (more than once!) and all too often I wanted to give up.
Bryan’s seizures started again, my mother’s cancer spread, and I felt as though my world was crashing down. Heartache and stress made sleeping difficult, but I did make one incredible discovery. When life seemed unbearable, I flipped the computer on and entered a world where anything was possible.
The magic is still there. Through writing, I can escape to parts unknown where life is surely difficult but struggles are conquered and success is made sure. I gain a strength there, so when I turn the computer back off, I am rejuvenated and ready to face reality once again Though my mother passed away and my son's struggles continue, writing still offers me new worlds, happy endings, and increased power to overcome adversity ~ real and imagined!
So many have helped me with this process. My parents taught me to believe in my dreams. My husband and sons have shown me all that is worth dreaming for. My Heavenly Father has blessed me in ways I could never have imagined. Through it all I have learned that dreams really do come true.

Jeri has published two romantic suspense novels with Covenant: Out of Nowhere and The Perfect Plan. Her third book, Shadow of the Crown, comes out in August! It is a true labor of love, set in and around breathtaking Copenhagen, Demark, Jeri's ancestral home. You can read an excerpt and learn more about Jeri -- HERE.

Her website is www dot jerigilchrist dot com - in case you want to look later, or I mess up the link as usual.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

My Summer Book Break

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I love summer break for so many reasons.

One of the reasons is that I get to do the Bellon Family Summer Book Club. There is just something wonderful about reading when you read with a child. Since I have some pretty large age differences in my family, so far, I’ve read about a hibernating bear who wakes up starving and has animal friends that throw him a food party, and I’m currently reading a Newbery Honor Book about the children of the guards and wardens of Alcatraz and how Al Capone washes their laundry. Pretty soon, it will be time to go for ice cream and talk about what we liked about each book, and what we didn’t like. That’s always the best part. Well, besides going back to the library to pick another book out together, of course.

Not all of my children love to read, which was hard for me to understand at first. I’ve always loved reading, my husband loves reading, I’m an English teacher, and a writer, I mean, it’s just not in the genes, right? It stunned me when I realized that one of my kids would rather be doing anything besides reading. He’d probably rather do the dishes or clean all the bathrooms than pick up a book. Yet, he’s interested in sports, so I could check out biographies of basketball players and he would read those, or when he wanted to know how different games were invented, we could find a book on that. It definitely wasn’t Tolstoy or Shakespeare, but it made my son’s face light up about something he was reading and that was enough for me. Of course, when everyone was participating, it made our family’s summer book club a lot more fun and created some memories that we can look back on each year.

But another benefit I get from the family summer book club is that when I read different genres and types of books, I learn from it and I see ways I could relate it to my own writing. For instance, the Al Capone Does My Shirts book ties in the sensational (living on Alcatraz with Al Capone) with an issue-oriented storyline (one of the children has autism) and how the main character deals with how all of this fits into his young life, making it seem very real. I love how the author combines so many layers with the setting and the characters so that while children are reading this book, they’re also learning and relating to it. And with the hibernating bear book, well, the bear always wants more, so perhaps the lesson I’ve learned is to always leave my readers wanting more. (But not like Jeffrey Savage with the last Shandra book, now that was just wrong!) And did you know that Michael Jordan tried out for his high school’s varsity basketball team when he was a sophomore, but because he was only five foot eleven inches, he was cut? There’s a lesson in perseverance somewhere in there.

Maybe I was so anxious for this year's summer book club because I am ready for some down time. We’re preparing for our baby’s arrival in a couple of months, and what could be a more fun activity for an expectant mother than reading? It’s something that makes me feel good, engages my imagination, and it’s fun. Of course, the promise of ice cream at the end always helps.

I’ve always wondered, though, do other people do family book clubs?

What do you do with your family on your summer breaks?

What books are you reading this summer?

Tell me your summer reading habits---inquiring minds definitely want to know . . .

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Thoughts on Annette's Thoughts

by Stephanie Black

I found yesterday’s guest blog thought-provoking. Annette Lyon is one of the writers I admire most. She’s a superb writer. She’s very successful—how many books is it now, Annette? Seven? Eight? I look at Annette and think . . . wow. She whips out bestselling books, one after the other, without breaking a sweat. Plus, she has awesome grammar. Show me a woman who knows how to use a semicolon, and we’ll be friends for life. But in reading her blog, I found out that Annette gets frustrated and discouraged. Who knew? She talks of competing with other authors who have the ‘Midas touch’—seemingly effortlessly pulling in the big sales. Wait a sec—I thought Annette was a Midas author. What’s the deal here?

I’m starting to wonder if the community of authors isn’t a lot like Relief Society. We all sit there in our Sunday best, eyeing the sisters on either side of us and thinking how perfect they are and how they have it all together while we bumble around, tripping over our shoelaces. Little do we know that they are eyeing us and thinking the exact opposite—that we’re the ones who are perfection personified and they’re the ones who struggle. We see each other’s outward successes, but we don’t see each other’s inward struggles.

The more I get to know authors individually, the more I find out that I’m not the only one who goes through bouts of discouragement and insecurity. Is it possible that . . . all of us experience those feelings?

Getting published is a tremendously exciting step, the fulfillment of a dream. You have a book on bookstore shelves! You’ve made it! But once you get on the other side of the gate, you find out that, as exciting as it is and as grateful as you are to be here, what you’ve made it to is another path. And there are plenty of boulders and muddy patches and detours on this path. Where you once agonized over getting that first book published, now you agonize over sales numbers and reviews. You agonize over your next book—can you do it again? One thing I didn’t realize before publication was how short a book’s shelf life can be—how quickly it will get bumped out of the limelight by newer books. It’s not enough to publish one book. You have to keep the books coming. No laurel-sitting allowed, or your writing career will fade away.

And what if your next book gets rejected? Pre-pub, I didn’t realize how common post-pub rejection is. Just because a publisher took your first book doesn’t mean they’ll take your second. Just because they took your first two doesn’t mean they’ll take your third. I thought it would get less stressful waiting to hear back on a submitted manuscript. It doesn’t, or at least it hasn’t for me. Waiting to hear back on a manuscript is my absolute least favorite part of being a writer. All that work, all that excitement, all that everything—and it can all collapse in the time it takes you to read the first few sentences of an e-mail. Not fun. And the stakes seem to get higher and higher. With each book, you’ve invested more and more in your writing career. You’ve got more fans, more expectations, more people asking, “So when is your next book coming out?” Post-pub rejection feels a lot like walking full-speed into a brick wall.

But beneath all the stress--and excitement--of the business side of things is the writing itself. I want to thank Annette for reminding me to enjoy the writing—to enjoy the process, the creative rush. I got into this business because I love to write. I love to create stories. When I start getting stressed about one thing or another, I need to stop and remind myself of this fact. So thanks, Annette.

(Which reminds me: I usually post blog and website info for guest bloggers when I post their blogs and I completely forgot yesterday. My apologies, Annette. Visit Annette's blog here and her website here.)