Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Release of Breaking Dawn & Other Freaky Stories

by Julie Coulter Bellon

One of the most interesting sales associates that I met at my booksignings was named Amanda. We were discussing the Twilight series and our opinions of it, when she told me the most amazing story. So, with her permission, I’d like to share it with you.

Amanda had decided to re-read the Twilight series in anticipation of Breaking Dawn’s release on Aug. 2nd. (That’s just two days away!) She finished Twilight and was innocently reading New Moon in her family’s living room, when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw something dark fly by and land on the floor. Looking closer, she was shocked to see a small bat on her living room floor.

You can imagine her surprise to be reading about vampires and then to suddenly have a bat appear out of nowhere. Could it be? Her father jumped up and said, “That’s what you get for reading those vampire stories!” and then the family spent quite a bit of time getting the bat from the living room, into the kitchen, then into the garage, where they could open the garage door and have it fly away.

My question was: Did Amanda watch wistfully as the bat flew away? Could it have been a sign of some sort that she was reading about vampires at the same time a bat mysteriously appeared in her house? We’ll never know. But I thought it was a cool story, especially with the release of Breaking Dawn so close.

As most people are aware, there is a frenzy of activities going on in conjunction with the release of Breaking Dawn. And, yes, I will admit that I have my copy pre-ordered and plan to pick it up first thing Saturday. No midnight party for me! I am very interested to see how Ms. Meyer will wrap up the series because, in my opinion, she sort of wrote herself into a corner with Eclipse . Hopefully the resolution is satisfying and has a little something for everyone.

I was a latecomer to the Twilight series. I didn’t start reading them until Eclipse was released because I didn’t think I’d like the books. I’m not a vampire fan, I don’t really read a lot of books set in high school, so I figured they wouldn’t be something I’d enjoy. But here I am, looking for and reading the snippets from chapter one and the one spoiler about Breaking Dawn that Ms. Meyers gave to Entertainment Weekly, and listening to some woman claim to be a librarian that read the end of Breaking Dawn already and neener neener-ing to everyone else that she couldn’t say anything more about it. (People like that are annoying). I really don’t know what it is about this series, but it drew me in. It almost seems as if everyone has heard of it and everyone has an opinion about it. Of course, I have my own opinions on certain parts and themes, but the books themselves intrigue me---as well as how this whole phenomenon came about.

I just hope that while I’m reading any book from the Twilight series, I don’t ever find a bat in my house. That’s just too creepy. Maybe they only visit special people. Like Amanda, who will probably never forget her brush with the “bat.”

You may recall that we did have a close encounter here in the frog bog with a vampire. Edward Cullen graciously agreed to an exclusive interview with our very own Robison Wells. If you would like to read it, here is the link

It is still one of the best interviews I think Mr. Wells has done..

Happy reading.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Few Thoughts

by Stephanie Black

Well, I don’t know anything about architecture and wouldn’t know Frank Lloyd Wright from Orville and Wilbur, but I think Rob made a great point in his blog yesterday, i.e., just because something isn’t to our personal taste doesn’t mean it doesn’t have merit.

That’s easy to say, but hard to apply. You liked book A? What’s wrong with you? That book was seriously flawed. The characters were flat. The plot was underdeveloped. The climax was blah. You have no taste at all. Now, book B, that is good stuff. That is a classic. All the smart people like book B. And I like book B, therefore I can feel superior to all you chumps who like book A. Hooray for pride.

Fact is, there’s not one book out there that everyone loves. And if Rob is an avid Harry Potter fan, while Kerry prefers reading Homer’s Odyssey in the original Greek—so what? As long as what we seek out for reading passes the 13th Article of Faith test, three cheers for differing tastes in literature.

Which brings up the whole "what is appropriate for LDS authors" discussion that's been buzzing here and elsewhere. Frankly, I'm starting to think it's futile. Decisions regarding what is or is not appropriate are such personal ones that I don't think we're ever going to have a meeting of the minds on this matter. There are people firmly convinced that fiction itself is questionable, and we shouldn't read anything but the scriptures and the Ensign. On the other end of the spectrum are people who feel that any novel with LDS characters who keep their covenants and are--gasp!--happy is, by definition, inauthentic and sappy. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. My two cents is this: the Lord has given us standards by which to judge good and evil--for instance, Moroni 7:12-19--and it's up to us to apply these standards to our work, knowing that as authors, we'll all stand individually accountable for what we write. I don't think the LDS writing community will ever come to an agreement on how precisely these standards should be applied, any more than we're all in agreement on exactly what activities are appropriate for the Sabbath day. I just know that I’m accountable for what I read and what I write in my books, which brings up the point that I’ve spent waaaay too much time blogging when I still have a ton of work left on the novel I need to finish in less than a month . . .

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Architecture and Books -or- How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Tract Homes (and Harry Potter)

by Robison Wells

It's a six hour drive from Minneapolis to Nauvoo, if you take the interstate. My wife and I don't like the interstate, and so it took us nine hours to get there and ten hours to get back this weekend.

I've always loved small towns and small roads, and Minnesota has been a delight. Not only are the rolling hills green and dotted with forests, but the towns are beautiful. And the architecture is amazing.

While driving through the tiny town of Owatonna (population less than 20k) we turned a corner and came across this. I wasn't familiar with the building (it's the National Farmers Bank), but I know the architect well. He's Louis Sullivan, one of the fathers of American architecture. He was one of Frank Lloyd Wright's mentors, and it was while working for Sullivan that Wright created his first significant designs. And here it was, absolutely gorgeous in every detail, in the middle of nowhere.

And, while driving through the tiny town of Mason City, Iowa, we chanced upon an actual Frank Lloyd Wright, the Stockman House. I got off the main road and followed the signs, and my wife insisted I go on the tour. I'd never actually been in a Frank Lloyd Wright home before, even though I have several books on the subject. And the home was amazing. Each detail was important to him: the horizontal mortar of the fireplace was lighter than the vertical mortar, because he wanted to draw the eye from side to side. The gap between the windows was almost eight inches instead of the usual three and a half because he wanted to maintain the distinct exterior while allowing more freedom for room placement inside. This was a home that was finely crafted, seriously contemplated, and artistically magnificent.

I'm an architecture snob. My first college major was architecture, and, when my eventual degree in political science didn't get me anywhere, I fell back on my architecture classes and designed homes for four years. (I was a structural designer, unfortunately, and not an architectural designer. That basically means that instead of designing what a house looks like, I was designing the structure of it: how far apart do the floor joists have to be; how big does the ridge beam have to be.) I designed homes for all of the major builders in Utah, and many of the tiny ones--and I hated almost all of what I was designing.

Utah homes follow two major trends. First, Utahns (for whatever reason) are as cheap as the day is long. One major goal of home design in Utah is get the biggest freaking house possible for the smallest amount of money. What this often translates into is stretching an enormous, gaudy home to fill almost the entire lot--the homeowner bought an eighth of an acre, and by George he's going to use an eighth of an acre. Often, these homes are boxy and square, with the only architectural elements on the front, while the back and sides are flat and lifeless and beige. I hate these homes. As my wife can attest, every single time I drive past I tell her that those people should be ashamed of themselves. (Or, perhaps, I fear for the future of the country?) (More on this in a moment.)

Second, Utah homes (and most homes, really) lack craftsmanship. I can forgive this with smaller, lower-income homes. Those people just want a place to live. But it's the larger homes that annoy me. Attention homeowners: it is painfully obvious that your stone/brick fascade is only one inch thick, rather than that you actually built the house out of stone. It doesn't look nice; it looks fake. It looks like a theme park--like Disneyland's Fantasyland. Case in point, look at this absurd offering from Utah's largest home builder. This isn't an ugly custom home--it's a tract home! Imagine an entire neighborhood of ugly little cookie-cutters, each with their own medieval tower!?

(Utah law doesn't even require an architect to touch most of these homes. They're designed by committee, always with more concern for business than for art. If stucco is cheaper than siding, slather that sucker in stucco. If square foundations are faster to dig and pour, then square it is!)

I've actually been thinking about writing a blog like this for some time: the architecture here in Minnesota is often quite beautiful, and it warms my little snobbish heart. But the recent debates (about great literature vs. the lousy tastes of the unwashed masses) have gotten me thinking.

If you'll pardon my French, who the hell cares what I think about architecture? I hate massive tract homes with little yards and stone fascades--but what does that have to do with you? I like what I like, and that's fine. But why do you have to care what I like?

The people who live in these "ugly" houses can lead very happy lives. They have Thanksgiving dinner in their "ugly" dining rooms, and they have their family photos taken on their "ugly" front porches, and they play catch with their kids in their "ugly" backyards. Whether or not their house is what I would deem to be architecturally great doesn't affect their enjoyment of the house in any way whatsoever.

In fact, I'm 100% positive that people are going reply with a comment that says they hate the Stockman House. Do I think that it is in fact architecturally superior to the tract home with the tower? Yes. Do I think that any eight-year-old kid could resist a house a with a frickin' tower on the front porch? No. It'd be an awesome house to grow up in.

In other words, my enjoyment of architecture is not diminished by the fact that less artistic, less finely-crafted homes exist. And someone else's enjoyment of their home is not dependent upon how architecturally significant it is.

For crying out loud, people, it's okay to like different things.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Confession Time

Okay, I have a confession to make. No this doesn’t have anything to do with the potato I stuck in Rob’s exhaust pipe. Really sorry about the muffler, man, but it probably needed to go anyway. And this isn’t about those anonymous anti-Canada signs someone has been plastering all over Julie’s garage. (I think it was LY.) And it definitely doesn't have anything to do with that picture of Margaret Thatcher, that I added just because I had no other odd pictures on hand.

No this actually has to do with Kerry’s wonderful post about the ten books you should read before you die. Before I make my confession, let me just say that I am probably the wrong person to ask this question. When people interviewing me ask what one book I would take to a deserted island, my first response is, “A book that would tell me how to get off the island, silly. Something like Deserted Islands for Dummies.” I’m also really bad at things like the live-each-day-like-it-was-your-last philosophy. I tend to agree with Lucy when she has this conversation with Sally in “You’re a Good Man Charley Brown.”

You know, someone said that we should live every day as if it were the last day of our life.

[LUCY (passing by and overhearing)]Aaugh! This is the last day!! This is it!! I only have twenty-four hours left!! Help me! Help me! This is the lastday!! Aaugh!

[SALLY]Clearly, some philosophies aren't for all people.And that's my new philosophy!

With that forewarning, I confess that if I knew I was going to die in x amount of time, and I could only read ten books before I die, those books would be far more likely to include a fantasy novel than say, Dante’s Inferno. I wouldn’t even give a thought to Shakespeare, but I would probably buy the newest Dean Koontz novel. At least one of the ten would be a graphic novel and there might even be some—shudder—horror. Does that make me shallow? I’m sure it must. But you know what? I just don’t care. Yes there are times I read for deep meaning. You know like when I’m stuck in the dentist’s office and it’s taking forever, and the only thing in the lobby is a pristine copy of Hemingway’s short stories.

But in general I read to be amused. I read to be uplifted. I read to be inspired. And, as good as Grapes of Wrath is (I’m not kidding here. I really do like Grapes of Wrath in a sick and twisted sort of way.) it doesn’t pass the time the way something like “Life Expectancy” does. And it certainly isn’t uplifting. I know, I know, we’re talking “Masters” here. Writers with standing and gravitas draining out their long dead ear holes. But I don’t read to be impressed and I definitely don’t read to impress. I actually did buy a book of Somerset Maugham stories to read on my last trip. And I tried. I really tried to get into them. But I kept looking at what my kids were reading with great envy. Finally when they fell asleep, I ditched SM and started reading Star Wars.

The other day, a wonderful young woman, and teacher to be, listed her top ten books on this blog. As soon as I read that list, I thought, “This is the woman I want teaching my kids.” See here’s the thing. She listed books like “The Uglies” and “Harry Potter” and “Oh the Places You’ll Go.” In other words books that my kids would “get.” Books that would lift them to new heights, give them dreams, introduce them to new worlds. Books they could get into right away and enjoy. If my kids have a teacher who knows how good “The Uglies” is, I have no worries about my kids learning to read.

Now I’m not saying there isn’t a place for more weighty volumes. I mean shouldn’t college students have to suffer at least a little to get to wear the goofy caps and gowns and put letters after their name other than WAS HERE? There’s nothing like a college level literature appreciation class to make you appreciate that you don’t have to read literature all the time. And maybe it will even teach you something other than the fact that Tolstoy seriously needed some St John’s Wart.

What I am saying is that all too often we feel that reading should be work. We should preferably be reading the scriptures, and if not those, than non-fiction. But if you have to read fiction, make sure that is historically accurate, or better yet, so old it actually is history. Next time you see someone over thirty with a fantasy or Sci-Fi novel in their hand—or heaven forbid, a romance—ask them what they are reading. Watch how they blush, and kind of wave away the book as if they’d just found it abandoned on a bus station bench, and are on their way to the trash with it.

But then say, “Oh, I love that book.” And watch how quickly they open up. A fellow degenerate. Next thing you know, you’ll be discussing the difference between Stephen Donaldson and Tolkien. You’ll be comparing Card to Heinlein. You won’t need to pretend that you prefer to go to bed with a copy of 16th Century Politics and It’s Effect on Modern American Economic Psychology. You can even admit that you’ve read all the Harry Potter books, and the Redwall books—twice.

Yeah, I know I’ll never earn the accolades of the New Yorker, and my mansion in heaven will probably be a little on the small side. But it will be lined with bookshelves from top to bottom, and they will ALL be books I like. I may let my grandkids come over and read them occasionally. Heck, I’ll bet would even like Hemmingway would like to read Dean Koontz, now that he’s sober.

I'm also excited to post several new stops on my tour. It's not every day you get to discuss things like having an extra eyeball in your pocket. Enjoy!

Sarah posted a great review on her blog Toddler Drama. Sarah is a talented writer, photographer, and graphic artist. As well as being the sister of some schlep of a writer names Dashner.

Next I got to go to Disneyworld with one of my most long-time fans, Brian at Bookworm. We had a fun interview and got to watch the fireworks from the Big Thunder Railroad. My stomach is feeling much better now.

You can read a fun review of Farworld by the wonderful Reader Rabbit the 2nd here.

Or you can drop by Mrs. Magoo as seen on TV, for her review at Mrs. Magoo Reads.

Qu Grainne and I had a chance to swap stories at the Alterra – Humboldt Café. You can read about it all here.

Gamila of Gamila’s Review and I chatted as we floated along the Avon River. You can read of Q&A here. And her interview here.

Trish and I had a had a ball at Hey Lady Whatcha Readin’? Check out her interview and review, and wish her congratulations on her recent nuptials.

Queen of Chaos and her 11 year-old son read my book togther. You can read her review and interview here.

And last, but certainly not least, (as she would tell you herself) the charming, talented, lovely, and writeaholic, Tristi Pinkston wrote a stellar review and interview on here and here. (Did I get in all the superlatives you asked for Tristi? J )

Thanks all. This has been a riot.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

LDS Morality for Non-LDS Characters

by Sariah S. Wilson

I recently finished "The Host" by Stephenie Meyer, and while I thought it was good, it wasn't a gripping, sucking me in sort of read that "Twilight" was. I found that I could easily put it down and walk away from it. I had some problems with faulty/flawed logic in the story, but it basically came down to I just didn't find it as fascinating as I've found some of her previous work.

But one of the things that occurred to me while reading it is how differently I judged her book morality-wise than I would if the same work had been written by a non-member. People are intimate before marriage (which one could argue would have to happen since there was no one there to marry the people. I'd like to see an end of the world saga with Mormon characters and see how it was all worked out. What would you do if you a) couldn't be married in the temple at all and b) couldn't really get married civilly either?). There's swearing, lots of violence. Definitely on the milder end of the scale, nothing too bad or too bothersome.

And one could dismiss such things out of hand by arguing that none of the characters were LDS.

But should a book by an LDS author be held to a higher standard?

This is something I think about A LOT. I have a time travel book I'm working on, and it is set before the Restoration. The hero gets very angry/jealous and ends up getting drunk, something he never normally would do. He does something inappropriate while drunk (off stage) and the next day tries to make immediate and total amends for his misdeeds. He's sickened by his dishonorable behavior and vows to never let himself lose control that way again.

So, technically, he's not committing a sin as it's set a hundred years before the Word of Wisdom became commandment. Nor is he LDS, and he lives in a time where drinking is very common and accepted (even expected). He is sorry for what he's done, repents in a sense (only to himself, not in prayer), and moves on from it.

But should my morals govern the hero's?

I know in some LDS fiction I've read/heard about, characters are written that commit sin but pay the consequences and/or repent. I think that is good and important for an LDS audience to read about people maybe undergoing some of their same trials who conquer and overcome.

But when writing for a national audience, when you're writing characters who are not LDS, what's acceptable? Would you have a detective who goes to a bar after he's done with a hard day's work? It's realistic and normal for that to happen. Would you feel uncomfortable as a reader/writer of such a story? Would you feel like you were promoting something you considered wrong, or would you feel like you were being true to your character?

Do you have a line where certain behaviors are okay (like maybe drinking or smoking) but others are not (pre-marital relations)?

Or do you think it's important to have non-LDS characters conform to your own standards?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ten Books to Read Before You Die

by Kerry Blair

I guess I can die now.

A couple of weeks ago AOL put up a list of Ten Books to Read Before You Die. I've read them all, so I guess I'm good to go.

Seriously, except for the Bible and possibly Lord of the Rings, I have issues with that list. Not that I don't like many of the books, I do. A few I even love. I just know for a fact that if I made a list of my own, it probably wouldn't have included any of their picks besides the scripture.

AOL's list:

The Bible (Well, good for AOL, but it was #10)
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (I really like it, but . . .)
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (More impressive to me in college than today.)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Would make my top 20 -- I'm not sure about 10.)
Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (Brilliant man, but ick.)
DaVinci Code by Dan Brown (Oh, come on! This is where AOL lost me, truth be told.)
Angels and Demons by Dan Brown (What were they thinking?)
The Stand by Stephen King (Yes, really. This is one of those books I possibly loved -- until he copped out with a deus ex machina at the end -- but again, really? It's not even King's best book.)
Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling (Give me a break.)
Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (Well . . . maybe.)

I read lists like this every day and wonder A) what the world is coming to and B) why I continue to subscribe to AOL. But it has made me think. If somebody asked me for a stack of ten books from my shelves to read before they die, what would I give them? More importantly, what would you offer? Put your list in the comments trail. Next Friday, I'll post my list and then draw a name from a box containing all the lists of everyone who responds. Winner gets their choice of one of the books from my list -- a paperback version, shipped from Amazon. You may count scripture as one book -- as if a quad -- and include non-fiction if you must.

Please play! I'd really like to know what you think.

NOTE: A few of you are now thinking what a cop-out this is. Okay, you caught me. It is a rip-off of a Now & Here blog I posted earlier this month. And it isn't. It's a whole new prize, after all, to a mostly different group. (And you three or four can play twice. I'll even transfer your lists for you, if you like.) I moved it here for a couple of reasons. The first is that I'm sick today and ran a guest blog last week. But the second reason is the real one: I've found three or four new books to read from the two dozens lists or so I've received thus far. I love them! So I really do want a list from each and every one of you. In case I die from this latest malady, I'm desperate to know what to read first. Respond fast, just in case! :)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

How It All Turned Out

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Giving. Patriotic. Supportive. Amazing.

Those are the only words I can think of to describe the people who have supported and donated to my Skittles for Soldiers drive. The response was overwhelmingly positive and much, much more than I ever expected.

Here is what we started with: a decorated box. I personally took one of these to all twenty Seagull stores and explained what we were asking.

I signed books all week and met Seagull store managers and store employees and I saw how much time and effort they spent helping me get the word out about the drive. It was so fun meeting them all (I definitely want to do a blog on the funny and amazing people you meet during booksignings!). But one of the best things that happened was being able to talk with the Vietnam veterans, current military men, and families with loved ones currently serving over in Iraq who came to see me. I was lucky enough to be able to hear about their experiences and what something from home truly means to them. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.

After the booksignings were over, here is a picture of my family room, as we were beginning to sort through the food and other items after we first picked it up.

As you can see, almost all of my family room is packed with food and hygiene items. We even had to make a little path to walk in the room!

It took a long time and a couple of late nights to sort through everything, but we finally managed to do it! (Thanks to my husband and daughter!)

Here is a nice picture of everything sorted. It truly touched and amazed me how much love and concern was displayed for our troops.

I will be shipping these items to Operation: Care and Comfort in California and they seem to be as excited as I am for our success. It definitely turned into something larger than I imagined, but I can’t tell you how much it’s meant to me.

Thank you to everyone who helped with Skittles for Soldiers. You made this go as smoothly as a packet of Smoothie Skittles. There was hardly anything sour about it, at least not as sour as Sour Skittles. And you all have become like my favorite pack of Skittles---Berry. Because I love you berry much. Or, you could just say that you are the original, because who can truly improve on the original Skittles? (Corny I know, but what can I say? *grin*)

P.S. Happy Pioneer Day! Perhaps I should have blogged about all my pioneer ancestors and how incredible pioneers were. And I could have included all the reasons why I would make a horrible pioneer. Oh well. Next year for sure.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Yes We Can

by Robison Wells

So, I don't know if you've heard, but there's an election on. I know this blog has a few readers from outside the United States who might not be following the campaign, and I know we have a few Americans who read the blog who are too lazy too care. So, as a public service, let me sum up the campaign thus far: two people are running for president. For more detail, check wikipedia or something.

Anyway, I've been thinking about Barack Obama a lot lately. And no, it's not because of roguish good looks and mesmerizing charm, nor is it because he's the spawn of Satan. (I mean, seriously. Would Satan's spawn be so darned good looking?) No, the reason that I've been thinking about Obama is because his slogan is "Yes, we can", which just so happens to be the second half of Bob the Builder's theme song. (Bob the Builder/Can we fix it?/Bob the Builder/Yes we can!)

It got me thinking: what other beloved children's songs would make good political slogans? So, I had Bertrand, my unpaid intern, do some research for me, and he discovered that it's really easy to convert animated theme songs into political mantras. The reason for this is likely because kids songs are all about happiness and energy, and about how we're all best buddies. So, for example, I wouldn't be surprised to see McCain respond to Obama's Bob the Builder with a little WonderPets (When We Work Together We've Got the Right Stuff!) or Franny's Feet (We'll Have a New Adventure, You and I).

The best slogans, however, come from Jakers (a PBS show about some Scottish sheep, I think):

As a matter of fact, I'd probably would regret it if I didn't add another one from Jakers:

And, while we're at it, here's another for Obama (from Caillou):

And McCain (Spongebob):

And, of course, Mitt Romney, who isn't really a candidate anymore, but he's still totally tubular:

Monday, July 21, 2008

Book Stuff and Protagonists

(The date says Monday. Therfore I posted this on Monday, despite what some of you may think. Just repeat, "Monday. He posted it Monday.")

Just got back from meeting with Chris, Angie, Patrick, and Roberta, at Shadow Mountain headquarters. For those of you who haven’t been there, it’s right across from Temple Square in Salt Lake. Next door is where they are rebuilding the whole downtown mall area. I could sit in their conference room all day and watch the construction equipment work. What is it about watching other people work that is so relaxing? Apparently I’m becoming enough of a regular now that the older gentleman at the front desk recognizes me. (Hey, I’ll take whatever fleeting fame I can get!)

Anyway, the purpose of the meeting was to finalize my tour schedule, go over my school presentation, and—as a surprise—they gave me an actual dust jacket for Water Keep. Whoo hoo!
So here’s the official tour schedule. September 22 and 23rd I will be in Houston. On the 24th and 25th, I will be in Phoenix. And the 26th I will be in Portland. The following week I will be in Pleasant Hill, Ca, Roseville, CA, and Bountiful, Utah. This is still subject to a little bit of change, but if any of you are in those areas and would like to schedule an event, let me know. Also if you have contacts in the PTA in those areas, that would be much appreciated! I can’t wait. I will definitely be doing more visits during the year, so if you’ve got a great idea about where I should come, let me know.

The next thing on the agenda was my school presentation. This involved doing magic tricks in front of the whole crew, telling stories of my misspent youth, and dressing Patrick and Roberta up in capes and top hats. I have to admit the last part was pretty fun.

Still working out the details of the presentation. But I can tell you it will include this picture of yours truly and his cousin. (Okay, I’ll admit it’s a pretty goofy pic. But at least it wasn’t as bad as an author who shall remain nameless. His childhood pics were apparently so bad they were pulled, for fear of frightening small children.)

Finally I got to see my actual dust jacket today. I keep running my fingers over the embossed lettering and sighing. Not sure what the other employees in my office think about this as they are keeping a provident distance.

The last item I wanted to discuss is what makes a good protagonist. Recently I posted about the ten top movie villains and got some great feedback about what makes a good villain. It was interesting how many of the best villains are women. Kathy Bates—shudder. You liked villains that weren’t as expected. Voice of the villain seemed to be a big deal, as was believable motivation.

So what makes a good protagonist? Does he or she have to be likeable? Or do we just need to empathize with them? I’m rereading Lord Foul’s bane. The protagonist, Thomas Covenant is really kind of a jerk. I mean he rapes an innocent young woman shortly after arriving in the fantasy world. But yet, we see what has turned him into such an unlikable person. His leprosy has alienated him from people so much, that the girls’ acceptance basically breaks him.

What makes a good protagonist for you?

Oh, and also a couple more fun stops on the blog tour:

Rachelle and I floated down the Snake River. If you can't tell from my books, I've got a little thing about snakes. Hope the name isn't because of the reptiles! You can read our Q&A at Rachelle Writes

An interview with the my friend and fellow author Marsha Ward of Writer in the Pines

An interview with Jewel of Jewel's World

An interview with Dominique of The Book Vault

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Tips for Saving Money

by Sariah S. Wilson

So in these higher-priced times, I know we can all use a little advice on how to save a buck.

I do not have this advice. Oh, I know some of the obvious things - like when you use a dryer sheet you should tear it in half because you don't need a whole one (someone who worked at an industrial launderer said they used half a sheet in their industrial-sized dryers, so we didn't need more than that) - or buying generic (unless a coupon makes the brand name cheaper).

I recently got an email forwarded from someone who claimed to be a former employee of an oil company, with advice on how to fill up your car to save money (never let the tank get below the halfway point, and only fill up in the morning. Something to do with gas vapors).

Therefore, I'm turning this blog over to you (and this has NOTHING to do with the fact that I've been unable to think of a suitable blog entry. NOTHING). What are your tips for how to save money and cut corners? Do you have any websites that you visit that have these sorts of tips? Email lists that you belong to?

What is the number one thing you've done that has saved your family the most money? (For me, I think that would be shopping at Wal-Mart for our groceries. A store that I used to shop at (local store called biggs) claimed that they had the lowest prices, until I went and realized that their prices had risen as high as the most expensive store (Kroger's). I saw an article in the paper comparing the supermarkets and each time, people saved the most money at Wal-Mart. I've cut our food bill considerably by shopping there. I like their clearance shelves where I've been stocking up on food storage items with things they've marked down.)

How do we get more frugal?

(EDITED TO ADD - I forgot to do my bit of blatant self-promotion this week. (How can that be? Did I have you worried?) Marsha Ward did an interview with me, and you can read it here.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Companionship in Books -- Guest Blogger Daron Fraley

One of the things I dearly love about this blog is the incredible people I've met in cyberspace. If you have ever written a compelling comment -- or even resembled Vivien Leigh in your photo -- I have almost certainly attempted to track you to the ends of the earth. Well . . . perhaps not the ends, but I have ended up as far afield as Saudi Arabia and Beijing. So fun!

I found Daron Fraley a little closer to home than Asia, I think. I may be wrong. To tell you the truth, I have no idea where the man lives! But I do know from what I have read of his work thus far that as a writer he inhabits strange worlds of marvelous works and wonders. He is also a heck of a nice guy. When I tracked him down to ask him to guest blog, he readily agreed -- and without calling me a stalker and/or taking out a cyber-restraining order. When I asked for a picture, however, he was a little more coy -- right up until I said, "Never mind. I have a great picture of a duck I can use instead." Within a couple of hours I had a picture. This, clearly, is a man of reason and wisdom. (I hope. I can only assume that the mug shot really is Daron. For all I know, it might have come from the same file as Spencer McKay's.) At any rate, I very much enjoyed the blog he sent and I think you will too.

Companionship in Books

by Daron D. Fraley

As I have personally gone down the path of trying to scratch an itch . . . one that began in the Cody Junior High School library many years ago, I have realized that it is not just a need to read good books that I desire to satisfy, but also a need to write something worthy of sitting on the shelves next to those bound volumes that have lifted my spirits, taught me something, caused me to look inwardly at the person that I currently am, and helped me on my journey of becoming the person I wish to to be.

I have been engaged once again in that process of writing. It started about 5 years ago after many years of reflecting on the enjoyment I had once had when fulfilling writing assignments at school. My Creative Writing teacher in High School was especially helpful in lighting the ember. I am thankful it never fully went out during those quiet, seemingly non-creative years.

When I thought about this adventure I have embarked on once again, I connected a few things together in my mind that had not been connected before. Let me see if I can explain what I noticed without getting too "wordy" (that is what my wife calls it).

Quite a few years ago, I sat in an interview with a Stake Presidency member that I admired a great deal. At the end of the interview, he and I chatted a few minutes about where I was serving in the Ward. I was either serving as Gospel Doctrine Teacher or Early Morning Seminary Teacher, and I cannot exactly place the time because I don't believe this experience made it as an entry in my journal. Needless to say, the discussion gave me a unique opportunity to share something with him that I had not planned. In fact, once I had said it, I really hoped it didn't sound like I was jealous of him, because my intent was to express sincere admiration for who he was as a person. I said something to the effect of, "President, I'll bet that your association with the Stake President, the other counselor, the High Council, and other stake officers is really choice to you. What a wonderful blessing it must be to associate with the very best men and women of the Stake on such a frequent basis! I think you are all wonderful!" He was gracious, and replied that it truly was a great blessing in his life.

I have thought of that conversation several times over the years, and have come to the conclusion that the impressions I had that day were far from jealousy, but rather they were simple yearnings to also associate myself with the best men and women I could in the world. I have tried to make myself the best self that I can be so that those opportunities are available to me, and they have been.

I now hear voices in my head: "But this commentary has been all about service in the Church? What does that have to do with writing?"

Let me see if I can make the connection.

Did you ever notice that the very best in any field seem to flock to each other like birds? OK, that is a reference to a trite cliché, but it works. It is true. Those that are competent in any field are drawn to each other. They are also drawn to those that are competent in other fields of study or profession. It is comfortable and rewarding to be in association with the best men and women you can find.

I suppose that I should have expected this in the LDS writing community, but I just didn't. It surprised me! I am not sure why . . . Perhaps I expected published authors to be, well . . . reclusive. You know, like other artists. Eccentric. A bit aloof. Perhaps even strange. What I found was quite the opposite. Blogs! Blog after blog after blog. Forums. Places to chat. The openness of it all thrilled me.

But then I thought: "This is just marketing. I am in marketing, of sorts. I have customers. I need to network with them, and get my name out. Yes, do a great job for them so that they will tell their friends! Be nice to them, even on days when they get on my nerves. That is what these authors are doing. They are using blogs and websites to spread the word about their product. They are extending professional courtesy to each other by reviewing each other's books, and by posting links to them."

Then came the question: "How do I get in that club? I know I need to get published, but once the book hits the shelves, how do I convince one of these famous authors (after all, anybody who has published a book, even just one, must be famous) to let me into that club?"

Must be the publishers. They must arrange it.

Then my eyes were opened. I started reading all of those blogs. I looked for more. Wow! There are a lot of them!

It was during the reading of those blogs that I was very impressed. I recognized that these famous authors whom I have never met, are excited for each other. They talk about it! They go to conventions together. They post on each other's blogs. They even sound sincere.

Ah . . . the Companionship of Books. Books draw people together. Even author peoples. It is something I had never even supposed. I have chatted with a few of you "published authors". Several of you have taken the time to answer questions. I admire that greatly. Thank you for being kind to me.

Here is a treat for you. Check out this site that I found while "framing my thoughts" around this subject. I think it is quite extraordinary. This comes from an online antique seller. It seems as though there is an old book, published in 1884, running around somewhere with some great wisdom in it about books and people.


When you're through there, check out Daron's blog HERE.
Thanks, Daron! I'm so glad we met here in Frogblogland. The rest of you: consider yourselves warned. I may not have found you yet, but I will!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Oh the People You'll Meet . . .

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I am right in the middle of a book signing tour and so far, it has been a really fun experience. Where else can you meet such a diverse group of people? For example, I have met people from Alabama, Florida, and Wyoming, who were stocking up on books before they went home. I met the Primary General President (which I thought was cool!). I’ve met people who don’t read fiction, and the second I say All’s Fair is a fiction book, they wrinkle up their nose like something just offended their senses. I’ve also chatted with store employees who love to dish on which authors are their favorites and which authors are most fun to have around, (and I’m not telling which ones they were, neener neener, but of course they all loved me!) I also got to meet our own blog commenters, Jon Spell and Pat! I wish I would have had more time with them, but it was nice to put the name to the face and chat for a few moments. You guys were great!

As you can see, I really love going to book signings because there’s just something about being behind that table that makes people want to tell you all about themselves. I don’t even need a couch, there’s just something about the table! I love that. This week alone I’ve heard about many different writing projects, I’ve heard opinions about people who read the books on CD’s, I’ve heard about babies that are due around the same time as me and what their names are, I’ve even heard about horrible blind date experiences! It’s just wonderful to make that connection with people, even if it’s only for a small moment.

I think one of the most rewarding experiences this week, however, was seeing how many people have donated to my charity drive, Skittles for Soldiers. Yesterday, a woman who doesn’t read anymore came in, and she didn’t buy any books, but she contributed what little she had to the drive. I’ve had emails from soldiers who have confirmed that these items we are donating are very needed and they do boost the morale of the troops. I’ve also had emails from family of these servicemen who are grateful that someone cares for their children, and from others who don’t live in our area, but still want to help. It has been incredibly humbling and life changing for me.

Can you tell it’s been a great week so far? I started it out with my TV appearance on Good Things Utah. If you missed it, you can see it here:

I really have to thank all the bloggers and people who have helped me get the word out about Skittles for Soldiers. You know who you are and you have my deepest gratitude.

In addition to book signing fun and Skittles for Soldiers news, my book All’s Fair has been reviewed. Jennie Hansen’s review on Meridian is posted today and you can read it here:

And Alison Palmer from LDS Neighborhood reviewed it here:

and Karlene Browning from Inksplasher reviewed it here (scroll down a bit until you see my picture/book cover):

I’m thrilled that people are liking the book so far. I also found out that the illustrious Jeffrey S. Savage (aka J. Scott Savage) bought a copy of my book as well, so I know that I’ve really arrived.

And speaking of arriving, if I don’t leave now, I will be late for my next book signings, so I better run.

I wonder who I'll meet today . . .

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ten Secrets Everyone Should Know: Guest Blogger Amy Black

I have finally convinced my mother to let me guest blog. I’m so excited! But first, I feel like I should introduce myself. As I often say, the criminal record is the window to the soul, so here’s mine:

It all started in fourth grade, when I was sent to the principal’s office for illegal activities on the playground. In fifth grade, I ripped the tag off of a mattress. During sixth and seventh grade I mangled every fashion law ever known to man. Eighth and ninth grade found me riding a Razor scooter without a helmet. In tenth grade I jaywalked in front of the police department. That year I also solicited and bought illegal substances in a bad part of a bad town (and was caught by the cops). In eleventh grade, I went (uninvited) to several alcohol-ridden parties. I also broke into my own house, and went back to the bad part of a bad town to solicit more illegal substances. Despite my extensive criminal record, as of yet I have only spent about four hours in jail. (And it took the toughest SWAT officer in the city to get me there.)

As you can see, my mother has been forced to put up with a little monster over the last seventeen years. Because of my extensive criminal record, I find myself in contact with law enforcement almost constantly. Seems like I can’t go a week without being dragged down to the station for one thing or another. The upside to all of this is that I know all kinds of secrets about dealing with the police. The upper upside is that I am going to share ten of my favorites with you, because frankly, these are the kind of secrets that everyone should know.

Secret #1—Show your hands. Police officers are taught to watch a person’s hands, because hands are what kill. Don’t stick them in your pockets, waistband, or behind your back, because these are places where weapons are kept. You may just be reaching for your I.D., but the officer doesn’t know that. Officers have the authority to order you to remove your hands from where ever you are sticking them, and yes, they will.

Secret #2—Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t poke the officer. Don’t pat the officer on the shoulder. Don’t hug the officer. Don’t shake hands with the officer. Don’t use big hand gestures or wave your arms around to get your point across. Officers don’t like to be touched, because touching is a prelude to physical violence. Because a good percentage of officers that are shot are shot with their own weapon, they are trained in gun retention. If your hands are too near an officer’s firearm, little red flags will go up, and you will go down.

Secret #3—Quotas don’t exist. I know some of you read the previous sentence and let out a gasp reminiscent of when you found out the tooth fairy was really your mother. People seem to have it ingrained in them from birth that the reason cops give tickets is simply to fill quotas. It is true that if a specific officer is only writing 1 ticket for every 18 tickets that the rest of the officers in a department are each writing, there is a problem and the officer will be expected by his supervisors to give more tickets. But cops are not paid per ticket, nor are they given incentives of any kind for writing more tickets. The whole point of pulling people over and writing tickets is to encourage safe driving and to correct dangerous behavior, not to get a new toaster oven.

Secret #4—However hard it may be to put on your penitent face, speak in polite tones, and apologize for doing whatever you are accused of doing, do it. Arguing, being obnoxious, rude, or otherwise offensive are all excellent ways to guarantee a ticket. As I mentioned before, the point of traffic enforcement is to keep the roads safe by correcting dangerous behavior. If you can identify what it is you did wrong, apologize for doing it and promise that it won’t happen again, you are doing the officer’s job for them, and he is less likely to give you a ticket.

Secret #5--Even if you are absolutely positive that you are not guilty of whatever the officer is accusing you of, remember, it’s his opinion that counts, not yours. It’s okay to tell the officer (politely, of course) that you did not think you were speeding, or that you thought you came to a full and complete stop at the stop sign. But don’t press the issue. Apologize for being mistaken and promise to be more careful. If he gives you a ticket and you are still sure you were right, then by all means, fight it in traffic court. But under no circumstances should you fight it on the side of the road (because you won’t win).

Secret #6—If you get pulled over at night, turn on your dome lights, then put your hands back on the steering wheel. This makes it so much easier for an officer to see the interior of your car as well as you.

Secret #7—If you get pulled over, stay in the car. There are virtually no exceptions to this rule. Traffic stops are one of the most dangerous things that a police officer does. They never know who they are pulling over. As Officer Robert Kirby put it, it’s like Russian roulette. They don’t know whether they are pulling over your average soccer mom or some nut job that has vowed to kill the next cop he sees. You jump out of your car and come rocketing towards the officer and you start looking more like the nut job and less like the soccer mom. And that’s not a good situation for either of you. If you get pulled over, stay in your car. You will get your chance to talk to the officer, I promise.

Secret #8—If you are stupid enough to get out of your car, then don’t get back in. Just keep your hands where the officer can see them and stay next to your car.

Secret #9—When you get pulled over, your first inclination may be to get out your driver’s license, registration, and insurance. Don’t. Keep your hands on the steering wheel and wait for the officer to ask for your license, etc. The places that you keep these magical items are also the places where weapons are generally kept (pockets, glove boxes, purses, etc.) and the officer will feel better if he can watch what you are reaching for rather then just seeing you thrash around as he approaches your vehicle.

Secret #10—Never tell a cop you have already been pulled over or ticketed for the same violation. Never. It tells him that you obviously didn’t learn your lesson the first time around and therefore need another ticket to help it stick.

Amy's mother here. As Amy said, she is forever ending up at the police department--but only because she is busy learning about law enforcement and doing volunteer work. And just to clarify, she only encounters illegal substances in the course of her work on the side of good and niceness (but the part about illegal transactions on the playground is still scandalous--she was attempting to sell rocks she picked up off the ground, which didn't sit well with the principal).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

An Honor Worth Defending

by Robison Wells

Dear Readers: I'm shocked and horrified by your behavior toward a good friend of mine. There has been much talk on this and other websites in the past week about Mr. Spencer McKay, friend to man and beast. Accusations have been made, and reputations have been impugned. Frankly, I expected more from you people--you should all be ashamed of yourselves.

Lest there be any confusion: Spencer Fielding McKay is as real as you or me. He's as real as the smirk on Jeff's face, or the baby in Julie's womb, or the turkeys in Sariah's flocks. What's next, people? Are you going to accuse Julie's guest blogger Lauren of being a blogging Snuffleupagus? Is Kerry's daughter Hillary a literary Polkaroo? I think not.

For shame.

Let me tell you a little about Spencer--Spence, as I like to call him.

Spence is the descendant of Welsh immigrants, Gwen and Gawain Walsh, who left their home country and journeyed to Zion. Once here, Brigham Young sent them south, charging them to start a Mormon colony at the confluence of the Fremont River and Muddy Creek. They called this home New American Perfeddwlad, Abercymertwrafon. Shortly after, a second family was sent: Hank and Susie McKay, who renamed the town Hanksville, purchased Gwen and Gawain's only daughter (Gwen II: The Revenge), and then sent the Welsh couple packing.

It was from these torrid roots that Spence emerges. He's acutely aware of the human condition because he's lived it! Yes, he's human, and as real as you or me!

Growing up, Spence tried to fit in, despite his obvious differences. At recess, while the other kids hopscotched and four-squared, Spence often found himself sitting beneath a tree, writing poems about his feelings. By age ten, he'd been hospitalized eleven times.

After what Spence now only refers to as The Sloppy Joe Incident, he left the school and continued his studies at home. He learned philosophy at the knee of his grandfather, Professor Julio Iglesias McKay, and in the kitchen he watched his grandmother beat the indentured servants. ("Oh, my Nana!" Spence once recounted to me fondly. "She'd send out letters to Scandinavia, offering passage to America if they'd merely pay off the debt with housework. My, how'd she'd beat those Swedes!")

But his writing mentor wasn't to be found around the house. Every summer Spence would sneak out the bedroom window, shimmy down the drainpipe, and run into town where he'd break into the library, immerse himself in the masters, and then hurry home before dawn. On his eighteenth birthday, that library burned to the ground--he had no need of it anymore.

Yes, Spencer McKay is real. He's as real as Jeff or Stephanie or Julie. (More real than Sariah, probably.) He's as real as the joy in the eyes of a new mother as she holds her newborn babe, or as the anger in the eyes of a mother as she see's her toddler has dumped all the Cheerios on the floor, or as the the resigned depression in the eyes of a mother as she discovers her baby has grown up to be a software salesman.

Hath not Spencer McKay eyes? If you prick him, doth he not bleed? If you tickle him, doth he not laugh? If you poison him, doth he not die? And if you wrong him--and you'd best remember this--doth he not seek revenge? Dothn't he, Jeff?

Spencer McKay is my friend, and I'd ask you not to insult him by questioning his reality. For shame.

Do Not Read If You Are Easily Offended

So, here I sit at 10:25 PM, trying to come up with something new and controversial. Something that will offend people and make them write letters to the editor. or at least Sariah. I want to post something that will get all the people who hate people with children angry, like one of Julie’s blogs did. Or maybe I can rile up all the Book of Mormon historians that disagree with my sheep philosophy like Sariah. Rob just looks controversial. Stephanie lives where it doesn’t snow. And Kerry is so sweet all the time, that you just know she says mean things about you behind your back.

But I’ve got nothing. Maybe it’s because I spent the evening swimming, eating an amazing roast beef dinner, and playing cards at my parents' house. It’s just mellowed me out. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been answering like a hundred questions a day for my blog tour. As it is, I’ve spent most of my best ammunition. Why I think authors shouldn’t use prologues. My anti-SASE campaign. Why I hate flashbacks. It’s all out there already.

Anyone want to talk about how Vai Sikahema, a 45 year-old 5’9” ex BYU football player out-boxed the steroid using ex-major league baseball player Jose Canseco, knocking him down twice in the first round before the fight was stopped? Especially gratifying when it was Canseco that asked for the fight in the first place.

No? Okay, then how about book reviews, or any reviews for that matter? How realistic are they? And how useful? As a sales manager I am supposed to do annual reviews of my employees. I hate the 1-5 star process. It’s inherently flawed. You don’t want to give your employee five stars because that means they have no room for improvement. But anything less than 3 stars says, “You really don’t deserve to be working here.” So really you are choosing between 3 and 4 stars.

Is that the case with book reviews? If you give out 5 star reviews too easily, you lose credibility. But if you give any less than 3, it’s a pretty terrible review. Go look at the Amazon reviews of a popular book. The 5 star reviews are not all that helpful because obviously anyone who gave it five stars loved it so much they can’t find much of anything wrong. On the other hand, the 1 star people are so filled with hatred, you have to wonder if the author shot their dog or something.

So you go to the 3 and 4 star reviews to get the real scoop. What’s good, what’s not? But that takes us back to the issue of really just being a 2 star difference. Thus we introduce ½ stars. Or a 1-10 scale. Or some people have gone completely away from stars to descriptions. Liked it. Loved it. It was okay. I’d never read it again. I burned it and spread the ashes across the lawn of my meanest neighbor. That kind of thing.

So here are my questions—which are not nearly as controversial as the whole King Noah man or myth thing:

How do you rank a book when you review it?

What do you look for in a review, and how much credibility do you give it?

And lastly, what do you think Rob is really hiding behind all those fake interviews?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Palmyra, Stephenie Meyer, Servant to a King and Desire of Our Hearts - Half Price

by Sariah S. Wilson

I just got home from Palmyra, New York where I attended a two-day signing alongside authors L.C. Lewis and Matthew B. Brown (and came to find out that not only do we all share the same publisher, but the same editor!) at Latter-Day Harvest.

Our signing was attended not only by the LDS masses, but by rather loud anti-Mormons. I have a hard time figuring this out. What exactly is their goal? To irritate LDS members? (If that's it, goal accomplished.) Do they think someone on the street is going to stop, say, "'re right. You're acting so Christlike right now in your utter disdain and condemnation of the people around you. Now that's a church I'd like to join - the kind that stands on street corners and screams at people. I renounce my faith!" (And speaking of screaming at people, one of the screamers kept talking about the "Laminates." You know, if you're going to try and insult people, the least you could do is pronounce things correctly.) One of the fun parts of the afternoon was Brother Brown getting to meet the author of an inflammatory pamphlet, which Br. Brown had accepted on a previous trip and wrote a 300-page book about in response. They went toe-to-toe for a while (with large hand gestures involved) but you can all probably guess the outcome of that chat.

I also think I don't get it because, for example, I can think of an organization that I consider to be an evil cult. But if I heard that group was coming here to Cincinnati to have a big convention, never in a million years would I go to the parking lot and yell things at them (because seriously, I'm not that mean nor do I have that kind of time to waste). If no one's getting hurt, why all the hullabaloo about how people worship? (Sorry for the venting. I know Utah people are probably used to it - I haven't been around screaming antis in a long time.)

Anyway, L.C. Lewis is fun and open and willing to get out of her comfort zone to meet people and tell them about her book. She tried to get me to join in - I just couldn't do it. I'm okay when people approach the table I'm at, because then I can start a conversation, but I can't just walk up to people and say things. Just know that I did give it an effort, though. Sr. Lewis spent a great deal of time in research and knows her stuff. If you're a historical fiction fan, you should check out her series on the War of 1812.

Matthew B. Brown knows everything. I wanted to buy all of his books. It was fun having him confirm for me the things I know and teach my Sunday School kids, things I think lots of adults don't even know (like the fact that Moroni was not alone in his travels). For anyone interested in discussions/explanations for deep doctrinal things, you should check out his books. He has books on symbols, a ten-year work on temples, Church history, gifts of the Spirit, Joseph Smith, etc. I got his "Plates of Gold." I'm looking forward to it.

Friday night I went to the Hill Cumorah pageant (my first time). Saturday morning I went to the Joseph Smith Farm - what a phenomenal experience. I stood in that log cabin and thought this is the place where the Smith family lived. Where Joseph saw Moroni. Where he told his family the things he learned. It was so tiny! Then on to the Frame House where I got to touch the hearth where he hid the plates. And then to the small cooper shed in the back where the plates had been hidden under the floorboards. That got me all choked up. And the Sacred Grove - to stand in a place where I know Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ came - wow. It was overwhelming. It was just like the song - bees were humming, sweet birds singing, music ringing through the grove, sunlight streaming through the trees. It was so quiet and peaceful and beautiful.

After my tour of the farm, I went to the bookstore. When I got there, one of the managers (Roxane) told me that two young women saw that I was signing and went a little nuts. They'd read my second book, but not my first. They bought the first and then went on to wait over an hour for me to arrive (I didn't have a set time for my signings). Their family finally made them leave, but they left their cell phone number with the manager for when I arrived so that she could call them to let them know.

So she called as soon as I got there, and they got there a little bit later. It was my Stephenie Meyer moment. They were giddy and excited to meet me. They told me they were my number one fans, and when I told them about my new book, they got sooo excited. They wanted to take pictures with me and hug me and yes, I thoroughly enjoyed the gushing. I thanked their father for bringing them back, and he told me that once they'd discovered that I was there, there was no rest for anyone else until they could return and meet me. I had actual fans! LOL No, no one else knew who I was the rest of the time, but those few moments were fun. So special thanks to Summer and Amirah for making my entire weekend!

Speaking of my new book, I think it might actually be in stores now. I got my box of copies (always exciting!) while I was away. You can also order it online at Deseret.

Unfortunately, Deseret's currently got "Servant to a King" listed under the Family - Parenting/LDS books, which is no fun because then I can't compulsively check my ranking on the LDS Fiction list.

Speaking of ordering online, Seagull Book's online store has "Desire of Our Hearts" on sale for half off. So no more excuses - it doesn't get any less expensive than that!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Just When You Were Hoping for a Blog From Kerry

by Stephanie Black

I apologize profoundly for not being Kerry. I know you all look forward to Kerry’s Friday blogs, and when she posted on Wednesday, you probably hoped you’d get a double treat this week from her. So sorry. We just switched days for the week.

Amazingly, I remembered I was supposed to blog on Friday, which is impressive when you consider that I forgot my own zip code yesterday. I was trying to order something over the phone and when the nice lady asked for my zip code, I drew a blank. It was very odd. I finally managed to come up with some numbers, but I wasn’t sure they were altogether right, and while we talked, I Googled my zip code and sure enough, I’d given her the wrong one. So I gave her the correct one and she was very kind and didn’t act like I was a dingbat or anything, but I was unnerved. I didn’t realize I was losing my marbles quite that badly. “I need a vacation,” I told my husband. “You have girls’ camp coming up,” he told me. “Girls’ camp is the antithesis of vacation,” I responded, at which point he wasn’t sure I’d used the word “antithesis” correctly--he was thinking of it in a Hegelian dialectical sense, or something like that, because, frankly, he’s a lot smarter than I am. I wouldn't know a Hegelian dialectic if it crawled out from under the couch and bit me on the ankle. But I am a Word Person, so, confronted with the thought that I'd misused a word, I got out of bed and looked it up. Yeah, it was 11:30 at night, but some things just can’t wait. My meaning (direct opposite) was perfectly legitimate, so I felt vindicated.

In other news, I now have a working title for my work-in-progress, and . . . drum roll, please . . . it came from the list of suggestions blog readers gave me last week. Working title is Picture Perfect—a big thank you to Melanie Jacobson for suggesting it. And Melanie, since I’m using your suggestion, if you’ll send your snail mail address to writetostephanie(at)comcast(dot)net, I’ll send you a copy of whichever of my books you’d like (okay, there are only two choices . . . ).

If the book is accepted, I don’t know what the final title will be, but it’s great to have something to call it right now besides novel4. The title Picture Perfect actually reflects the story on a few different levels, which is cool. I finished the third draft, but still have a bit of work I want to do on it before I sent it to my test readers next week.

That first test read is a little scary. Or a lot scary. Definitely somewhere on the scale of scariness. Right now, feedback is a Big Blank Unknown. The only person who has an opinion on what I've written is me. Soon, that will change, and I'll start to find out how well the story really works. Yikes. What if the feedback is, “Yuck. Start over.”?

Well, better to hear that from a test reader than to read it in a rejection letter from my publisher.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Small Bit of Comfort

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Have you ever been so moved by something that it spurred you to action? That’s what happened to me during the publication of my new book, All’s Fair. Since it was set in Iraq, I knew I would have to do a lot of research for it because I hadn’t been there myself. I read dozens of soldiers’ blogs, stories, newspaper articles, and military handbooks for men and women being sent to or who were already in Iraq. But the thing that touched me the most was having a firsthand account from Corporal Matthew Blair and his unit who were stationed in Iraq at the time. They patiently answered all kinds of questions from what the sky looked like when the heat waves were coming off of it, to what kinds of things helped get them through the worst part of the day. The one common theme I saw among the soldiers was how much something from home meant to them---even if it was just a small package of candy. Because that small package of candy meant someone was thinking of them and supporting them.

I put that into my book, but I really put it into my heart. Just a small package of candy helped these men feel a small bit of comfort during one of the most trying times of their lives? How could I not want to help bring that comfort to those who were valiantly trying to serve their country? I couldn’t do much, but I knew I could do that.

So I partnered with a great organization called Operation: Care and Comfort who, since 2003, have sent over 200 tons of items in care packages for our soldiers serving overseas. They are affiliated with the Red Cross and make it their mission to bring a “touch of home” to those in the military---exactly what I was looking for. So, in conjunction with the release of All’s Fair, all next week I will be collecting items for care packages that will go to our troops. Anyone is welcome to drop off one of the most needed items (listed below) at any Seagull Bookstore across the Wasatch front. As an added incentive, when you do bring in a donation, your name will be entered in a drawing to win a free autographed copy of All’s Fair.

I have been working hard to get the word out, so we can get as many donations to our troops as possible. To kick off the whole thing, I will be appearing on the television show, Good Things Utah, on Monday morning at 10:00 a.m. (You know I am dedicated to the cause because I am willing to go on television when I am eight months pregnant. If that doesn’t spell dedication, I don’t know what does!) Then, throughout the entire week I will be at several different Seagull locations to meet, greet, and thank those who have supported me both in my writing and in my care package endeavor. If you would like to come and meet me my signing schedule is on my website

I hope to see you at a Seagull next week. I want to make this July a truly patriotic one for me and my family and do something for our troops. Even just looking at Kerry’s pictures yesterday made me weepy because it brings to the forefront the true sacrifices of these military men and women so far from home. I hope you felt it, too, and it moves you to want to do something---like it has for me. Just a small bit of comfort can mean the world to a battle-weary soldier. Can you help?

***List of Needed Items

Food and Snack Items

Individually wrapped hard candy ( Twizzlers, Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie Pops, Skittles, lollipops, Life Savers, Sweet Tarts, etc), chewing and bubble gum, mints, breath strips

Small packages (lunch box sized) of nuts, seeds, pretzels, cookies, chips (Pringle type containers best), Cracker Jacks, crackers, Corn Nuts, fruit snacks and fruit leather, Gardettos, microwave pop corn

Trail Mix, energy bars, protein bars, breakfast and granola bars, nut bars, instant oatmeal, Kraft Easy Mac, ramen, Cup a Noodles

Powdered, sweetened drink mixes (Gatorade, Crystal Light, Kool-Aid), ground or instant coffee, tea bags, hot chocolate, cider mix, sugar, sweetener, Coffee Mate, and condiment packets

Canned meats (NO PORK!), stews, chili, ravioli, soups, fruit, beef jerky, non-refrigerated microwavable meals

Hygiene, Entertainment, and Miscellaneous

Hotel/travel sized gel deodorant, shampoo, lotion, toothpaste and mouthwash, toothbrushes, dental floss, sanitary pads and tampons.

Twin blade razors, eye drops, nose drops, unscented baby wipes, wet wipes, small hand sanitizer, Mach III Turbo razor blades

Small Kleenex packets, Q-Tips (Large packages are fine), anti-fungal creams, Band Aids, medicated foot powder, sunscreen.

DVDs, AAA and AA batteries, pens, pencils, blank greeting cards and stationery, stickers, disposable cameras, AT&T phone cards.

Gallon, quart, sandwich, and snack sized Ziploc bags (to make care packages)

Hand written cards and letters of encouragement for our troops

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Skittles for Soldiers

by Kerry Blair

As I write this, night has fallen in Iraq. It is 104 degrees, practically cool after the day’s high of 114. Next week the temperature is expected to reach 118. That’s hotter than I expect most of you can imagine. Even those of us who know what it feels like know that when it’s that hot in Phoenix, you don’t sit around the pool in a swimsuit, sipping lemonade. Temperatures in that range make you feel like a baked ham. Imagine, then, going anywhere dressed like this.

That is everyday business dress for many—too many—of the men and women fighting our country’s war on terror.

But this isn’t another treastise on why we should be grateful, I promise! Instead, it’s an invitation to do something to show that gratitude. As you’ve all heard by now, Julie Bellon’s new book, All’s Fair, is set partially in Iraq. To get a feel for the area and conditions, she asked questions of my youngest son – a Marine MP who “celebrated” his 22nd birthday in the volatile Al Anbar Province –his second tour of duty.

About a year later, Julie is doing more than raking in royalties and basking in the stellar reviews of a truly gripping and already best-selling novel. She came to care deeply about the men and women whose life-experiences formed the basis of her book, so she—with the support of Covenant Communications and Seagull Book—has organized a Skittles for Soldiers campaign to gather necessities, and hopefully a few luxuries, for our troops in Iraq. She has decorated collection boxes and is in the process of delivering them to Seagull bookstores up and down the Wasatch front. Herself. She cares that much. You don’t have to do as much as Julie—nobody would—but you can help her out. Read all about it on her website, HERE.

I hope Julie plans to tell you all about it tomorrow. I’m beating her to the punch today, with permission, because I have something she doesn’t—pictures. Here is a glimpse at the real people in the real place--a representative sample of the men and women who will benefit from her heroic efforts. Be grateful. My son very, very rarely gives me permission to post anything about his experiences in Iraq, let alone his pictures, but he granted it this morning for Julie, who he came to respect and like through their correspondence, and for the sake of a project he appreciates. He well knows how much the boxes from home mean when one is bone-weary, pushed to the limits, and far from home.

If it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, here are a few thousand good reasons for you to get out there and support the soldiers, Marines, air men, and sailors who spend every day of their young lives defending you and yours!

The pictures, in descending order from the top:

1) Matt's squad returning from a nighttime response to detect/disable a roadside bomb.
2) A real-life scene from All's Fair.
3) Matt's group began every mission with prayer.
4) Bases like this one are home, sweet home to about 170,000 American servicemen and women.
5) In Iraq, shade is often where you make it.
6) Aren't you glad you don't work (or live) here?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Blog Touring: Spencer McKay

by Robison Wells

A lot has been said lately about blog tours, and, as you know, I’m a big fan. So, when I was approached by my good friend Spencer McKay, I leapt at the chance to interview him! (And the fact that he gave me an ARC of his new manuscript, WALKED, and Other Things Pioneer Children Did As They Sang, was just icing on the cake!)

Let me start by describing the book, and then we’ll get into the questions. First, the cover is absolutely gorgeous, as you can clearly see. The dust jacket is sturdy, perhaps #80 or #100 paper, and the book has a distinct aroma—sage and soil, like a the desert in August after a fleeting storm. The backliner reads “In this gripping tale of intrigue and humanity, Spencer McKay plumbs the depths of the Mormon experience, searching for authenticity and newness. He walks, like we have walked, in WALKED.”

I emailed Spencer some questions, and I’m quite impressed with his answers. I think he’s a real revolutionary in the field of LDS literature.

So, Spencer McKay, before we begin why don’t you introduce yourself?

Thanks. I’m Mormon and an artist. In fact, I’d say that I’m the first truly authentic Mormon artist, in the sense that I’m willing to plumb the depths of things. Depth-plumbing has always been a passion of mine, from the first moments that I touched a pencil to the instant I hit the period button at the end of this sentence. Right there. And this one. And one more. Plumb plumb plumb.

How did you get the idea for this book?

I could answer that in a few different ways. If you’re talking about where I got the idea for writing the first ever authentic Mormon novel, I’d say that it’s my role as an artist, and I just can’t deny it. However, if you’re talking about where I got the idea for the giant robot car wash, that came from watching TV. Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones was on, and just when Padme and Annakin are fighting on the big conveyor belt, the TV went to a commercial for a carwash. And I thought: whoa—am I really seeing this? Is this really happening? It’s like what they say about twist endings in books: surprising, yet inevitable. A giant robot carwash was surprising, but it just felt so right. I knew I was on to something.

One of the things that I find so fascinating about the book is how it takes a modern story and parallels church history. What gave you that idea?

Carl Jung used to talk about the collective unconscious—that we all have these symbols rumbling around inside ourselves, and that they appear in our art whether we intend for it to happen or not. That’s really where much of this story came from: I didn’t set out to fill it with symbolism—it just happened. When the townsfolk are rescued from a horde of space crickets by a flock of robot birds, I was just as surprised by the deep meanings as you were. I mean, seriously, talk about peeling back the layers of an onion.

I’m particularly intrigued by the character of Colonel Tally-Ho Penguino, and his inner conflicts. Could you talk a little about what must have been going through your mind when you were writing this amazing character?

Ah, yes. The Colonel, I like to think, is a little piece of each of us. We all have doubts from time to time—that’s what this frail human existence is all about: doubts. But, I think, deep inside of all of us we have the capacity to overcome, to believe. For us, it may be about returning to our roots, or relying on the strength of our family and friends. The Colonel overcame his doubts with a pair of matching cufflinks made from the scales of fire dragons. But it’s all the same thing. Tomato, tomato.

Walk me through the publishing process. I know that you’ve had some unconventional methods in the past, and I know that this manuscript in particular might be difficult for the average Mormon reader.

I think that’s a flaw with readers, mostly. I mean, the book is great, and if people don’t buy it then they’re stupid and wrong. But yes, the path to publishing has been a challenge. But I’ve had some really great editors along the way who have helped to focus my ideas and smooth the rough edges. For example—here’s a bit of trivia—the harmonica that Ramon travels with used to be his girlfriend, but there was a scene where they have to share a hotel room, and it was just easier to make her into a harmonica. As it is, I think it’s an interesting symbolic device: does Ramon love music just as much as his girlfriend? Will that music be an eternal companion of sorts?

One thing’s for sure: you’d be surprised how easy it is to change kissing scenes to harmonica scenes. It’s basically the same, except every time you mention him sighing, music plays.

I’m a bit confused by your tagline for this book: it’s the first truly authentic Mormon novel? I take it you’ve never read Charley? Chickens in the Headlights?

I know that I’m rubbing a few of the blue-noses the wrong way with my declaration, but I stand behind it. For too long, LDS fiction has languished in the mud of the masses, but my literature will make it break free! Whitney Awards here I come!

Before we conclude, is there any advice you’d give to aspiring writers?

Well, first I’d tell them that publishing is a difficult road, and it’s only going to get more difficult because I’ve just raised the ante and it’ll be hard for readers to go back to the same old genre crap they’ve been getting. But second, I’d also tell them that writing should be a labor of love, and if they’re succeeding then they probably aren’t writing well enough.

And third, I’d tell them to show, don’t tell, and to quit using adverbs all the time. I mean, honestly.

Well, many thanks to Spencer McKay for making us a stop on his blog tour. His book, WALKED, And Other Things Pioneer Children Did As They Sang, will be in stores soon. In the meantime, may I suggest you check out his other works, here, and here.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Tour, Tour, Tour

Hope everybody had a great weekend. I had a chance to hang with most of the relatives on my side of the family, cooking burgers and shooting off fireworks. And I only came away with a few minor burns on the backs of my hands and one on top of my head. Okay, so maybe I stay a little too long trying to light just one more firework as the others are starting up. For those of you sending me questions, I’m catching up as fast as I can. But keep them coming because I’m having a ball answering them.

I just heard from my publisher that the blue lines are done and the books are actually in the process of being printed and bound. I’ve got a book show signing scheduled for early August and they are hoping I’ll have hard copies by then. Whoo hoo! Can’t wait. I’m even officially listed on Shadow Mountain’s web site. No reviews from the big boys yet, but all the feedback I’m getting is positive. The only real negative I’m hearing is that the pace of book one is so fast there is not as much time to get to know the characters and the Dark Circle as people would like.

I don’t plan to slow down the pace in book two, but I am going to provide a lot more meat to Kyja, Marcus, and the bad guys. In a way it is shaping up a little like HP 4, which was my favorite HP book. The plan is to get it to my editor by the end of August/Early September. Speaking of early September, we are finalizing the two week book tour and should have firm dates and locations soon.

Here are the newest reviews on the tour.

Jewel from Jewel’s World who I had the pleasure of writing a blurb for recently. If you haven’t read her blog, you should. She really is a jewel.

KT at What KT Reads wrote a great review and will be doing a Q&A soon.

Sandra, Ethan, and James at The Dance went rafting on the Provo River with me. Which was a ball, until James pushed me out of the raft. We’re going to have words.

Danyelle of Queen of the Clan and I got to hang in her newly remodeled kitchen. (check out the pics of it!)

Candace Salima and I hung out in her newly remodeled blog at Dream a Little Dream.

And Christine at She Reads Books gave me a review of more than her first six word review.

Wait, just added one more!! How could I have forgotten my trek into the Australian Outback with the lovely and talented, T. For her blog You Asked For It? It was a lot of fun.

Thanks everybody! You all are awesome!!!!