Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, October 31, 2008

Haunted Lighthouses -- Guest Blog by Pat Taylor

It's that "spooky" time of year again!

I love ghost stories - and I love lighthouses, but put them both together and I am one giddy, giddy girl! So, one night when my daughters turned on the Travel Channel's "Most Haunted", and it was an episode on haunted lighthouses, I joined them.

Later, just for fun, I did a search on them, and I was amazed at how many I found! Lighthouses for some reason seem to be especially "hauntable." Apparently, lighthouse keepers were such dedicated and meticulous folk, that they continue to do their work - even after they're dead!

Here are a few of my favorite stories:

Owl's Head Light

The story is told that the ghost of the lighthouse keeper here returns and not only keeps the brass polished, but frugally turns down the thermostat. (If I'm ever haunted, I want a ghost like him - one who cleans!) It is also told that he appeared as an "imaginary friend" to a young girl of a more recent lighthouse keeper and told her to wake her parents and tell them to sound the fog horn. There are a few other great stories about this light - less ghostly, but cool. You can find them here.

Tillamook Light:

Or, "Terrible Tilly" as some call it, is a pretty creepy place. It is no longer in use because it isn't up high enough to be safe from the crashing waves, and it was rendered unusable by one nasty one several years ago.
It was built on a rock that the native Indians considered to be inhabited by evil spirits. Only weeks before the cornerstone was laid, a terrible storm sank several small ships, and 25 people lost their lives. Witnesses to the tragic event, reported spotting a ghostly ship making it's way among the wreckage, as if picking up the souls of the dead. Keepers at the light often reported hearing bone-chilling groans on the stairwell leading up to the light. A Coast Guard vessel once reported seeing a ghostly ship breaking through a dense fog.
Tillamook Rock is currently being used as a depository for cremated human remains!

Seguin Island Light:

Seguin Island Light was the scene of the most gruesome story I found, so if you are prone to goosebumps, skim over this one!
Seguin Light sits on an island 10 miles from Boothbay Harbor. Although it's fairly close to the mainland (3 miles to the nearest shore), in the winter it would get very isolated. One keeper, newly married, brought his young wife out with him to tend the light. Becoming very bored, the wife complained about not having anything to do. Thinking it would occupy her, and keep her mind off the boredom, the keeper ordered a piano to be brought to the island before the next winter set in. Winching it up the side of the rocky ledge that is Seguin, he proudly presented it to her. The wife was delighted, but could not play without sheet music. Fortunately, one song had come with the piano, so she set to playing it. By this time, the island was icebound, no other deliveries could come in. She played her piano, though. The same song, over and over and over again, driving her husband insane. Even when he had had new sheet music brought out to the island, she kept playing the original tune. Finally he'd had enough, took an axe and chopped the piano to bits. When she complained, he turned to her and chopped her up with the axe. Then he killed himself. It's said, on a quiet night, you can hear the tinkling of the piano floating up the Kennebec River. The keeper has also been seen, still tending to his duties.

Haceta Head:
My favorite haunted lighthouse of all is Haceta Head in Oregon.
The ghost here haunts not the light itself, but the lighthouse keepers cottage.

It is supposedly haunted by "the grey lady" who they have lovingly dubbed "Rue." They suppose that she is the mother of a baby who had drowned, and is buried in an unmarked grave on the property. It is said that she wanders still, searching for her baby. She has been attributed to moving objects around, and has even been seen on few occasions. One such occasion was when a workman was doing some work in the attic, and turned around to see her watching him. He fled the attic and refused to go back.

Later, when he was working on the upstairs windows, he broke a pane of glass. He then repaired it from the outside, but refused to go in and clean up the mess he had made. That night, scraping noises were heard in the attic, and the next morning, when someone else checked out the attic, they found that the glass had been swept into a nice neat little pile.
This lighthouse keeper's house is now a bed and breakfast, and is on the top ten list of "most haunted" lighthouses, and is on my top ten list of places I want to visit before I die.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

How to Save a Billion Dollars on Your Costume

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I heard yesterday that Americans will spend four billion dollars on Halloween costumes and decorations. Wow. But in these difficult economic times, if you aren’t one of the lucky few with a billion to spend so that you can buy a store-bought costume of a one size fits all M&M or an Indiana Jones jacket, you will have to be creative in your costume. So today I am going to share with you ten of the best simple, homemade costumes I’ve seen.

  1. The Babe Magnet—Wear an old suit coat with Barbies attached all over it and you are now a babe magnet.

  2. The “Cereal” Killer—Wear an old suit coat with those tiny cereal boxes all over it, with a plastic knife sticking out of them and some fake blood and then you are now a “cereal” killer.

  3. Deer Revenge--Make deer antlers out of a paper bag, (can use wire to make them stiffer) and glue them to a hunter’s hat. Put some black makeup on your nose to complete your deer self, and dress in orange. Carry a toy gun.

  4. Dirty Clothes Hamper--Cut a hole in the bottom of an old laundry basket, big enough for you to fit through. Use clothesline twine to make suspenders to hold the basket up and put some clothes in it.

  5. The Lame Excuse—Wear a white shirt and use a cane. On colored post-it notes, write down all the excuses you can think of—my dog ate my homework, I feel a migraine coming on, I didn’t understand the rules, etc. Then put the post it notes on your shirt and you are now a lame excuse.

  6. Road Kill--Wear black pants and a black shirt. Put white tape down the middle of you for a dotted line to make your road. Attach a bloodied stuffed animal and you are now road kill!

  7. Smarty Pants—Attach Smarties candies all over your pants (by sewing or by safety pin) and you are now a smarty pants.

  8. A Blind Referee—Wear a striped shirt that looks like a referee’s, sunglasses and a cane or stick to round out this costume.

  9. Static Cling Costume—Randomly attach socks and other laundry items to your clothing and don’t forget the dryer sheet!

  10. It’s Raining Cats and Dogs—Attach some stuffed animals (cats and dogs) to an umbrella. Wear a raincoat and carry the umbrella because it’s raining cats and dogs.

When you are done at your party or with your trick or treating, then you can relax with a story from Edgar Alan Poe, perhaps, or watch an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Although, I’m more of an “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” girl.

Anyway, I hope you have a safe and happy Halloween. If you have some more creative costume ideas, post them, I’d love to see what you’re wearing!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Freedom of Speech

by Stephanie Black

With the election in less than a week, yard signs are all over the place, as people endorse various candidates and express support or opposition to various propositions. What a blessing to live in a country where we can freely express our political opinions without fear of repercussion.

At least that’s the country I thought I lived in.

Apparently, some people can’t stand letting others express opposing opinions. Ask the people who get their “Yes on 8” signs stolen out of their yards (even if you don’t live in California, I don’t doubt that you’ve heard of Proposition 8). Are the thieves so insecure in their ability to make a strong case for their convictions that their only resort is petty theft? They creep onto someone else’s property and snatch their sign to . . . what? Ensure that no one else will (gasp!) see that someone thinks differently than they do? They must be so proud of themselves. “I stole a yard sign! Three cheers for freedom of speech—as long as it’s my speech!” What are they trying to prove? If you disagree with the message of the sign, post an opposing sign in your own yard. Post ten signs, put signs on your car and your T-shirt, write a blog, write letters to the editor, knock on doors and talk to voters, hand out flyers, passionately defend your opinion. But breaking the law in an effort to shut down someone else’s right to disagree with you is not only morally bankrupt, it’s pathetic.

And it gets far worse than yard-sign-theft, as Julie Wright blogged about yesterday. The things she mentions are sickening. What country is this again? Fortunately, we personally haven’t had any repercussions because of our support of Prop 8. But my good friend and her children were out holding up signs on a street corner not far away and got egged. Nice. At least it wasn’t rocks (which I hear happened in a neighboring city). You can bet the egg and rock throwers are proud of how open-minded and tolerant they are. Can’t they see the irony in their thug behavior? Probably not.

The issue of same-sex marriage is an issue on which voters are deeply divided, but the instant at which we step away from the ability to discuss things rationally and civilly and start using theft or violence or intimidation to try to shut down people who disagree with us, that’s the point at which our country has lost something very fundamental and precious. I’m sure that the vast majority of people, no matter what their convictions on this issue, oppose this kind of thug behavior, but I’m saddened and sickened by the small minority who think that freedom of speech applies only if you agree with them.

Personally, I believe I have the right to say this: I believe that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, a central part of His plan for his children. Forming eternal families is at the core of the reason we are here on earth. I believe that strong families are the bedrock of society. I don't believe something as fundamental and far-reaching as the definition of marriage should be changed by the votes of four judges. This is not just a matter of adding a ceremonial stamp of approval to civil unions. This is a matter that can ultimately affect everyone, their children, their freedom of worship.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. But I do expect that every citizen of the United States would support my right to state my convictions--without fear.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My Endorsement

by Robison Wells

As you know, the election is one week from today! Holy freaking crap! By my count, I've blogged about it exactly nine hundred and thirty six times. And yet, in all that time, I've never actually endorsed a single party or candidate.

Well, the time has come. After all, if I really feel strongly enough to vote for someone, I probably ought to be willing to share my convictions with my dearest friends. And you, my blog readers, are the closest thing I have.

Without further ado, I would like to declare my choice of candidate for the 2008 Presidential Election. The man I'm endorsing is a talented individual, who has led an exciting and dangerous life. Some call him a hero, though I imagine he's too humble to apply those words to himself. But he's the man I'm voting for: le mort vivant, the angel of music, the Red Death: The Phantom of the Opera!

The Phantom has graciously accepted my invitation for an interview, and he's here in the studio with us today.

Rob: Phantom, let me say that this is a real treat. A real treat.

Phantom: No, I assure you, the pleasure is 100% my own. I'm in this race for the people--for people just like you, Rob.

Rob: Aw, shucks. Well, I have a few questions, Phantom.

Phantom: Please call me Erik.

Rob: Erik?

Phantom: My full name is Erik Of The Opera. "Phantom" is just a nickname.

Rob: Interesting. People have funny names in France, I guess.

Phantom: That we do. Erik Hussein Of The Opera.

Rob: Great. So, anyway, I have a few political questions. First, the world economies are in turmoil. What will you do to fix the problem?

Phantom: I would use my Punjab Lasso.

Rob: And... do what with it?

Phantom: Lasso the mess up.

Rob: Okay. I can see that, I guess. Next question: some people, including me a few moments ago, call you a hero. Why is that?

Phantom: Oh, who can say? I was imprisoned by the Gypsies for a while.

Rob: And did you do something particularly heroic while imprisoned?

Phantom: I became a magician. I later moved to Persia and became an architect.

Rob: That wasn't included in the musical.

Phantom: Do you know what else wasn't included in the musical? The fact that I have a skeletal face, with a sunken nose, and I'm corpse-like.

Rob: And you would have liked that?

Phantom: On Broadway I was played by Michael Crawford. That guy was in Hello Dolly! I can most definitely assure you that Don Juan Triumphant does not contain the lyrics: "We'll see the shows at Delmonico's, and we won't come back until we kiss a girl."

Rob: What about the guy in the movie version?

Phantom: The movie version of the musical? He looked like Brad freakin' Pitt. I'm the danged Red Death! For your viewing pleasure, I've included the following graphic. The left is me, the right is Phantom Fancy Pants Dreamboat.

Rob: So, why do you want everyone to know that you're ugly? Does that will help you politically? You're the ugly everyman Joe Sixpack?

Phantom: The last I checked, Joe Sixpack doesn't have a corpse-like face and the stench of death, no.

Rob: So, what's the reason?

Phantom: Because I'm all about ethics reform and bringing honesty back to politics. If I'm ugly, I want the media to report that I'm ugly. I get so sick of the media's prettiness bias.

Rob: Speaking of which, there's been talk about you being involved with a scandal.

Phantom: You mean the thing with kidnapping Raoul and forcing Christine to marry me?

Rob: Well, yes.

Phantom: That's all taken out of context. Once you know the whole story, I'm sure you'll agree that there's nothing to worry about.

Rob: And that story is?

Phantom: See, the thing is, I was in love with Christine, and I wanted her to marry me. But then she didn't want to--probably because I'm horrifically ugly and a murderer and maybe insane--so I had to kidnap her. But then Raoul was all gettin' up in my grill, so I had to try to kill him, and then lock him in a dungeon where he could slowly drown. See?

Rob: Makes perfect sense to me.

Phantom: You betcha.

Rob: So... do you hate America?

Phantom: Good question. I've never really thought about it. I think... well... I could take it or leave it. I don't hate it, but I don't not hate, either.

Well, there we have it. Dear readers, I hope that you, like me, will reflect upon this festive, Halloweenish time of year, and cast your vote for the candidate who most resembles a skeleton. I know I will.

The More Things Change . . .

I am typing today’s blog from inside a tent in my backyard. You might think I am a little bit old for that, (and my knees would agree with you), you might also think that late October in Utah it’s a little bit cold for that. (All of me would agree with you.) But my son turns 11 next month and in order to get his Arrow of Light, he needed to camp overnight in a tent he set up. So here we are. Actually it was kind of fun roasting hot dogs and making s’mores with my little guys. I’ll see how good I feel about it in the morning. So if my slightly frozen fingers mistype, or if my eyes are not as clear in the dark of the tent, blame Cub Scouts!

But that isn’t actually what I’m blogging about tonight. I wanted to respond to a post I was directed to by my good friend and fellow author, Annette Lyon. The post was written by author, Gregory Frost. It’s starts out talking about how his series has been pulled from the shelves of Borders. But it’s really about much more than that. It’s (if I’m interpreting right), about how chain bookstores are limiting what we read. You can read the whole post here:

Now before I respond to Mr. Frost’s post, let me say that I totally understand the pain of having a book pulled from the shelves of a store. I’ve been there. Let me also say that I am going to go out and buy his series. And I’m going do it at an independent bookstore. Some of my favorite bookstores are independents, and we do need to support them I also think that Mr. Frost provides a lot to consider. Which is all I ask of a good post.

If you sense a “but” coming here, you are right. I personally feel that this post has a “the sky is falling” feel to it that I don’t think is warranted. In fact, if anything, I think we have more choices than ever before.

I’ll address a couple of his points.

Mr. Frost laments that, “When the million-copy bestseller is required every quarter, you have a business model doomed to failure — either you publish fewer titles, or fewer copies of those more complicated, subtle, and dare I say it, difficult books.”

Here’s the thing. For as long as I can remember, this has been the model of big publishers. It’s the very fact that there are best selling books that allows them to publish books that make no profit at all. Or that may not make any money right out of the gate. It’s the lure of the next bestseller that lets the publisher take chances. I’ve published with small publishers, and I can say for a fact that it’s not a lot of fun. Yes, a small publisher doesn’t need bestsellers per se. But because of that, books get little churned out in minimal numbers with little or no marketing. There’s a reason authors strive to get published by the big guys. They have the money.

Next, he complains that Amazon and other on-line booksellers do not offer the benefits of brick and mortar stores. “Bookstores, for their part, came against that borderless phenomenon called Amazon in 1995. That year, Jeff Bezos launched which now operates separate stores in the UK, Germany, China, Japan, and elsewhere. Without needing to maintain stock — without needing a shop at all — offers virtually every title put out by every imprint, in multiple languages. No “physical” chain can offer all this.”

Why is this a bad thing? It’s as if Mr. Frost is saying that Amazon is bad for author or book buyers. On the contrary, millions of people can sell books across the globe that never could before the internet. No store could offer all of these titles and smaller authors were out of luck. Now anyone can find virtually any book, either new or used, and see reviews of it. And if you don’t like the Amazon reviews, you can check any of the millions of other on-line reviews. The internet is the savior of small publishers.

The next thing he complains about is co-op. Basically a publisher pays for premium shelf space. “If you took your books, approached a bookstore, and offered them money to place your titles by the front door, this would be called graft. When publishers do it, it’s called business.”

The odd thing about this is that in the paragraph just above, he compares bookstores to a supermarket that stops carrying milk. But the fact of the matter is that every supermarket does exactly what he is complaining about. They sell shelf space. The cereals that get the best spots paid for it. And yet, milk is still where it’s always been (along with the other items that don’t pay for premium space), because it sells. Maybe Borders has cut down on the books they carry. But they still carry a ton of books. And Barnes and Noble carries a ton. Heaven forbid that you have to go looking for a book.

Anyone who lives in today’s world understands advertising. Does the Super Bowl tout Bud because it’s the best beer? Of course not. They are paid for it. But that doesn’t stop you from drinking whatever you want.

Does every bookstore employee know every book? Of course not. But to suggest that the only bookstore employees that read and care about books are independents is crazy. I just spent an evening doing a book signing at a Barnes and Noble in Layton, UT. Not only did the bookstore set up school visits for me. So I could encourage kids to read. But once the line of gets buying books was gone, I talked books with the employees. And guess what? They know books. They suggest titles. And it’s not just the publishers that pay big bucks.

Finally he makes a point that I agree completely with. “My solution is no different than all the writers who've shouted from the battlements before me: Buy your books from independent bookstores; the ones that have survived the onslaught, the ones that we hope will arise to fill the gap.”

Of course! Buy books from your local independent stores. I love the little bookstores on Main Street, Spanish Fork. I go there all the time. I love King's English in Salt Lake, and Clayton books in Clayton, CA. There places are some of my very favorite stores and I encourage everyone to shop there. But the thing is, there is room for the Amazons, the Costcos, the chains, and the indies. Costco will never carry a wide variety of books, and they certainly will not have someone to point you to a new author you will love, but they sell a ton of books which helps authors, publishers, and readers. Amazon offers everything under the sun (and thank goodness they do, because no one else can.) If you are tight on cash, you can even buy the book used, and become a loyal follower of the author’s new books when you do have cash. The chains offer the great service of a wide variety and people to help you.

Where do the indies fit in? Well that’s up to the indie store. If they don’t offer something more than the stores listed above, they won’t stay in business. They can’t offer the variety or the discounts. But they can offer a personal touch that no one else does. I have done signings at many independent bookstores, and the great ones know their customers. They know the local schools. They know about books with local flavor. They take great care of the authors that come by. They survive, not because of pity, but because they offer a truly valuable service.

I don’t think the sky is falling. I don’t think our choices are being limited. I think this is the greatest time to be an author or a reader the world has ever known. The opportunities to hook up a good author and a good reader are limitless.

Let me mention one other thing here. Rob Wells commented back to Annette, me, and some other authors that print on demand will make all of this obsolete. You’ll walk into a bookstore and ask for a specific book and they will print it for you. He feels this will even out the playing field. To some extent, I agree. Bookstores will be able to offer the inventory of an Amazon through this method.

But I also disagree, I still think people want to touch books first. And they want high quality hardbacks that POD doesn’t offer. And bookstores know that face out displays sell books. POD will offer greater distribution. But, with few exceptions, it will not affect demand. Will things change? Of course! But what won't change is readers finding the books they love and telling other readers about them.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Let's Open the Bidding on this Fine Frog

by Kerry Blair

Anybody want to buy an inflatable frog, personally autographed by six LDS authors you know and love? (Or at least tolerate each and every Tuesday.)

No? How about a dog biscuit that once belonged to Trixie Koontz, sent when Bandi wrote to her to complain about her “dad’s” repeated slander of pit bulls? When Dean Koontz later penned, “I’m sure some pit bulls are very nice…” Bandi and I tore out the page and had it bronzed. Want to buy that?

Okay, how about the chance to name a character in an upcoming installment of Farworld by J. Scott Savage?

Or maybe your dreams run more toward owning a complete set of all ten of Lynn Gardner’s bestselling “jewel” books. Perhaps you pine for all the best romantic (or historical or suspense or speculative) books penned by LDS authors in 2007 – the final nominees for last year’s Whitneys – signed by the authors.

You say your bookshelves are already groaning? Then perhaps you long for a hand-sketched portrait of your child, an heirloom quilt for your bed, chocolate, a Scottish tartan and pin, a set of gorgeous handcrafted note cards, a massage, a terrific professional edit of that book you’re going to finish next month, a how-to-get-published packet from a professional book marketer, a breathtaking set of amethyst jewelry, chocolate, a professional portrait package, a little girl’s “cupcake” dress from a company that sells to the stars, a Stripling Warriors tie, a pottery set handmade by a popular author, chocolate, a home spa kit, a personalized cake, ad time on a super-popular writer’s podcast, two dozen homemade cookies a month for twelve months, two tickets to the Whitney gala – at a table with an author of your choice, authentic Hopi silver earrings, vinyl lettering for your car, or . . . chocolate? Well, we’ve got that!

In fact, we’ve got way more than that!

As you might have figured out by now, this blog is a not-at-all-disguised advertisement for the upcoming Whitney Benefit Auction. Coming to a computer screen near you on November 1, the online event will feature one-of-a-kind items and opportunities: personally inscribed books by your favorite LDS authors (some of which are out-of-print and unavailable elsewhere) and enough manuscript reviews and edits to make any writer (published or hoping to be) swoon. Stop by the Whitney site on November 1 and follow the link to the best site for Christmas shopping this side of the North Pole! You’ll want to check back often because new items will be added every single day through November 15.

But that’s not the only way to get in on the fun. You too can donate to this great cause! If you have a fun item to give or a great skill to offer, please contact me at We’ll even be thrilled to take “ junk” off your hands! After November 1, you will be able to put up an item on ebay yourself and designate 10 – 100% of the sale to go directly to the Whitney Benefit Auction. Contact me and I’ll tell you how it works.

I have to admit that I’ve bought (and sold) some pretty crazy stuff on ebay. Last Christmas I spent seven days obsessing over whether or not I would win a particular bit of meteorite for my husband. I once looked in on the auction for a piece of chewing gum Randy Johnson spit out the day he pitched a no-hitter in Bank One Ballpark. You’ll be relieved to hear I didn’t bid on the chunk of gunk, but probably appalled to discover that I did consider it. I have also purchased trolls for a friend, a 1920-version Monopoly game for a son, a vintage Hot Wheels set for my brother…who I sincerely hope does not read this because it’s for his birthday in a couple of weeks.

How about you? Tell me the weirdest thing you ever bought or sold on ebay or any other auction or yard sale. I’ll enter your name in a drawing for a $10 gift certificate good at the upcoming Whitney Auction. Better yet, tell everybody what you plan donate in the comments trail and I’ll throw in a Fantastically Fun Frog Pack for each person who donates. (Offer good this week or until I run out, whichever comes first. Better hurry, because I have a limited number left.)

Besides, commenting will be good exercise in limbering up those fingers for all the bidding you'll want to do in the weeks to come!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Rolling Stones Hit a Royal Target

by Julie Coulter Bellon

First of all, THANK YOU to everyone who participated in my little contest. The people who were closest were Rob and Janice (thanks for pointing that out, Robison). Their guess was Columbus, Ohio, and Ohio. If you two will send me your mailing address, I will be happy to send you an autographed copy of my new book, All’s Fair.

**And Melanie Goldmund, if you are reading this, I would love the link to your fanfiction. :-)

I’m a little late in posting this because I’ve been reading Traci Hunter Abramson’s new book, Royal Target. I thought I would be able to finish it and post a review, but I’m not done, so I’m going to tell you what reading this book brought to my mind.

Have you ever heard the song, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” by the Rolling Stones? I first heard the song when I was watching a movie by the same name and Whoopi Goldberg was trying to help a spy by figuring out his password and Jumpin’ Jack Flash was the clue. She was in front of her tape player, (which totally dates the film. In a strange way I sort of miss tape players though) and she keeps rewinding and rewinding to see what the lyrics are so she can figure out the clue. If you’ve ever listened to the song, the lyrics that I can make out seem either very nonsensical or are so metaphorical that I can’t wrap my little brain around what they are trying to say. I can sing along to the chorus, however, so there’s a bright spot! Anyway, there’s a good beat, hence the song’s popularity. Or perhaps it’s the fact that it’s a Rolling Stones song. Either way, it’s allll rigggggght now, in fact it’s a gas. Jumpin’ Jack flash, it’s a gas gas gas.

How does this pertain you ask? Well, in writing, sometimes you have some really good beats in a story that make up for the weaknesses in the characters or plot. For example, in Twilight, I thought that Stephenie Meyer wrote the angst between Bella and Edward so well that sometimes it made up for the idiotic decisions that Bella made. The underlying tension in that book kept it going, when some of the “lyrics” didn’t make sense. The “chorus” of the Twilight series was pretty much the same, one that some could sing along to and enjoy, and one that others thought didn’t do the characters any favors since the recurring themes didn’t really allow some characters to grow and develop and experience loss and such. But the beats were there, the books were popular and it made Stephenie Meyer a household name. But that doesn't happen often. Usually, good beats aren't enough to carry an entire story. You have to have the entire package---lyrics, beat, vocals, the works.

So what does this have to do with Traci Hunter Abramson’s book? Well, sometimes you pick up a book just because you know the author’s reputation, and if the rep is good, probably the book is going to be good. Like a singer and their songs. It's not always true, but it's generally true. I own all of Traci’s books and have enjoyed them, but I thought her last one, Freefall, was particularly well written. I like her "voice" and her style of writing. Royal Target surprised me, however. As I mentioned, I’m not finished with it, but the main characters are dealing with some pretty intense outward forces. What draws me to the book, though, is the inward struggles they are having. To me, the outward struggles are the “beat” that we are going along with and we have consistently throughout the story, but it’s the internal conversations and angst that are the lyrics of the story. That is what draws her readers in, makes them care about the characters and root for their success. One situation in particular seemed to push the envelope of believability for me in Royal Target, but it was the internal back and forth with the character that made it believable and plausible, which I think is the mark of a talented writer. Traci balances both the beat and the lyrics with her author's voice and that makes it possible for her readers to move along with her and trust that they won’t have to keep rewinding and rewinding to “get it.” You definitely won’t have to wait for the chorus to “sing along” with this book. It’s one that makes you feel like you are right there, experiencing the entire “song.”

And for my final comparison to the Rolling Stones---Traci Hunter Abramson’s book will give you the “satisfaction” you’re looking for as a reader.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Setting the Stage

by Stephanie Black

On my “Page Turner” blog last week, Melanie J. posted the following comment:
I really like suspense but in general I don't read it because too often authors sacrifice characters for plot. Meaning that they'll take an otherwise intelligent character and have him/her doing something completely out-of-character and boneheaded so they can build suspense in the novel.

I thought this was a thought-provoking comment. It reminds me of a movie my sister told me about where—okay, I can’t remember the details, so I’ll just make up what I don’t remember, but the gist is that the heroine had discovered a box containing evidence that her husband is some horribly evil dangerous guy. He is currently asleep in the house, so where does the heroine sit down to go through her box of evidence? Right there in the house, where the killer snoozes. Um, wouldn’t it be a better idea to get yourself to safety and then go through the box? Her husband wakes up and confronts her—surprise!—and mortal peril ensues and the viewer is left thinking “Now I understand why Mensa rejected her application.”

So I think Melanie’s comment was a good reminder to us suspense writers that just because we want a heroine to be in danger, we can’t make her do something unbelievably stupid to get there, unless we want readers to groan in disbelief.

Note that I didn’t say the heroine can’t do something stupid—I said she can’t do something unbelievably stupid. (Everything I say about heroines applies to heroes too—it’s just tiresome to type he/she all the time). Her actions must be credible, given the character and the circumstances. Real people—intelligent people—do stupid things sometimes, especially when they’re under intense stress, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that your heroine could do something dumb that launches her into additional jeopardy. But you need to prepare the reader for her actions. You need to set the stage.

Now if an action is just outrageously stupid, I doubt there’s any way to set the stage to make it credible, unless you’ve established the heroine as a complete pinhead, in which case you’re probably writing light comedic suspense. But in cases of more run-of-the-mill poor judgment, you can probably come up with a way to make the protagonist’s actions such that the reader can identify with them instead of thinking, “No one in that situation would do that.”

Here’s an example from my own writing. In Fool Me Twice, I felt it was vital that the protagonist personally confront the villain at the climax. The villain has manipulated her all through the book, and if she doesn’t go face to face with her antagonist, she won’t attain the character growth she needs. But here’s the problem—any woman with the brains of a garbanzo bean wouldn’t confront the villain solo. She’d call the police. How could I force the protagonist into a situation where it would be logical for her to confront the villain on her own? How about if she thinks the police are on their way, but the person she thought would call them didn’t call (which requires that this secondary character be given a credible reason not to call)? And once she reaches the place where the villain is and realizes the police aren’t coming, she can’t turn back or go for help, because it’s a matter of life and death, and if she delays even a moment, the person she’s trying to save could die. Ergo, she must confront the villain on her own. It’s up to readers to judge how well my strategy worked, but I was satisfied that under the circumstances, the protagonist’s actions were believable.

Getting characters to do what you need them to do in order to raise tension often involves cutting off their options. Suppose I want the villain to stalk the heroine on a dark, deserted road. She gets a flat tire and has to walk to the nearest house, a mile away, to call for help. Hmm . . . what about her cell phone? She has a cell phone; why doesn’t she have it now so she can stay safely locked in her car and call for help? Maybe she forgot it. Seems kinda convenient that she wouldn’t have it at the critical moment—unless I established earlier in the day that she didn’t have her phone. Maybe on her lunch break she reaches for it to text her teenage daughter to remind her about an orthodontist appointment and realizes she left the phone plugged into the charger at home. Or maybe I established that she’s forever forgetting to transfer her phone from one purse to another—her husband sighs and asks why she needs more than one purse anyway, and what’s the point of a cell phone if he can’t get in touch with her half the time? There are plenty of ways to make it credible that when the heroine reaches for her phone at the critical moment, it won’t be there, and the scene won’t read like I reached into the story and snatched the phone away so the heroine would be in more of a pickle.

Sometimes getting characters into perilous situations involves boxing them in with reasons why they can’t or won’t do what would seem to be the logical thing. Sometimes you can set the stage with backstory. Someone tries to kill Joe Hero, but he doesn’t call the police because ever since his dad got sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Joe has distrusted cops. He's going to solve this thing on his own. I’m perfectly willing to believe that Joe would keep the police out of things when most citizens in his situation would be scrambling to dial 911--as long as you give me a believable reason for his choice.

Set the stage for your characters to make the choices and mistakes they make and you can create suspense that makes readers gasp--not groan.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Conspiracies, Politics, and Common Sense

by Robison Wells

Okay, so in the past several months I've had a lot of jokey blog posts about the election. Maybe in the future I'll explain my real thoughts about the election, but at the moment I want to make this point:

When I was writing The Counterfeit, I read a lot of academic books about conspiracy theories. (Not that my book was very serious, but I wanted my plot and characters to be somewhat plausible.)

I was mostly researching why people believe in conspiracies, and rather than write a big explanation of what I found, here's an excerpt from my book--it's a conversation between the two main characters, Eric and Rebekah (both BYU undergrads). They have just had someone (Isabella) tell them about an elaborate conspiracy. (I've edited it a bit so that it makes sense if you haven't read the book...)

“I need to tell you something, Eric,” Rebekah said, a few steps ahead of me, picking her way carefully around chunks of broken rock.


With the penlight in front of her, and me behind, all I could see was her dim silhouette.

“I don’t believe it.”

“That we’re being chased again, and are now hiding in the catacombs underneath Paris? I can’t really believe it either.”

She laughed, but there was no joy in her voice. “I don’t believe Isabella.”

“What part? She hardly told us anything.”

“Any of it, really. I don’t believe that there are people in this world who control things like that – it’s too easy. You know why people believe in conspiracy theories, I think?”


“Just because they’re easy. You remember the midterm in Dr. Vigil’s American Heritage class?”

“Yeah. I remember that I did lousy on the multiple choice section.”

“For the essay portion I answered the question on the causes of the civil war. I wrote seven pages on that thing, all about slavery and the abolitionists, and do you know what grade I got?”

“An A?” Rebekah always got A’s on everything.

“A C-,” she said. The tunnel came to a fork, and she paused, turning to face me. “Dr. Vigil wrote one word across the top of the essay: monocausationalism. When I went to his office to ask him about it, he said that being called a monocausationalist was one of the worst insults an historian will ever hear.”

“Academics are weird,” I said with an uncomfortable chuckle. I had no idea where she was going with this.

Rebekah smiled. “What it means is that the historian claims that something happened just because something else happened. It’s extremely simple cause and effect: the civil war happened because of slavery, or the Great Depression happened because people were buying stock on margin. But it ignores all of the other causes.”


Rebekah nodded, and headed left. “It’s like what Isabella was talking about with the Pilgrims. I grew up hearing about how they came to America looking for religious freedom too, and that’s true – but it’s not the only reason. In fact, it’s just one of a dozen reasons.”

“And this is why you don’t believe Isabella?” I asked, confused.

“People believe in conspiracies,” she said, stopping and looking back at me, “because they don’t understand all the causes that go into the big events in history. They can’t understand what makes prices rise and fall – I mean, I got an A in economics, and I don’t really understand what makes prices rise and fall. So people think that it can’t possibly be as confusing as it really is, and they decide that prices rise and fall because a secret society somewhere has secret meetings in dark, smoke-filled rooms, and they’ve decreed that gas prices will go up and bread prices will go down.”

So, that was a very long way of getting to my point, which is:
  • When someone tells you that there is a simple answer to anything, be skeptical.

  • When someone says that some Y happened because of some single X, tell them to go back and read some more.

  • When someone says "This is common sense", they're almost always wrong.

Why? Because very few of the issues in this election are simple, and because if you believe the issue is simple, then you'll assume there's a simple solution, and then you'll be horribly, terribly WRONG.

I spend more time than I should reading the news and perusing political blogs. And I'm absolutely nauseated by the complete lack of nuance. Instead, all there seems to be is "I believe X because of Y", or "Politician #1 will destroy America because he believes X".

There is a cellphone commercial that's been running a lot lately, wherein a group of firefighters appear to be sitting in for Congress. The firechief reads off issues, and the firefighters vote -- "800 pages to tell us we need clean water?" the chief mocks. "Who wants clean water?" All the firefighters say "Aye." The chief tosses the 800 pages on the table and mutters "This is the easiest job I ever had."

The message of the ad is clear: these firefighters cut through all the political nonsense--they know how to actually get things done! I think that most bloggers and commentators have this same mindset: yes, we want clean water (or whatever), so let's just vote for it and get it over with. And they neglect the hundred important issues that have to be discussed: where will the water come from? How will it be paid for? What constitutes "clean"? Should it be flouridated? Those kinds of questions are not an example of politicians trying to overcomplicate the issue; they're an example of trying to make the right decision with all the information.

Lest you think I'm singling out any party or the other, I am not. I'm singling out stupid extremism. I'm singling out the people who spread goosebump-inducing stories rather than discuss facts and principles. I'm singling out the party apologists on both sides: Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, but also Arianna Huffington and Bill Maher. I'm singling out the people who write silly blogs about how this candidate hates America, and how that candidate is corrupt.

Anyway, thanks for letting me rant. I'll be funny next week. :)

Surviving in a Tough Economy

I assume I’m like everyone else in that I’ve spent a lot of time the last couple of months watching the economy with interest and not a little trepidation. We are just finishing refinancing our house. The company I work for has had a significant slowdown in sales (and I’m over sales!) I’ve stopped checking my 401k. Oh, and yeah . . . I have my first national book trying to find a place in the market.

Obviously none of us know what will happen with the economy. I’m personally of the belief that while this is a major correction—even bigger than the dot com bubble and ’87, both of which I remember clearly—it is not the end of the world. I’ve had a lot of authors ask me how this will affect my book sales and theirs. I think that my answer is not what they expect. I believe book sales are much like the rest of life when things get tough.

At my office we had to do some layoffs. Letting people go is the worst part of being a manager. Especially when you have to let people go who you know are trying their best, and are good people. You know you have to make the cut, so you look carefully at the people who work for you and you decide who will have the least negative impact on the company. Not no impact. If they would have no impact, they shouldn’t be working there in the first place. But if you have to make a cut, who will it be.

The same thing is true at home. You may eat out less. You may have spaghetti more. You turn off lights and drive less. You look over your budget and decide where you can cut and where you can save. But many things are left alone, either because you value them more than others or because there is no room to cut.

How is this like books? People are still buying books. I know this because I track my sales as closely as I can. I know this because when I go into the bookstore, I see other people—like me—buying books. Maybe not as many. Definitely not as many. But they are buying books. And publishers are still publishing books. Of course book sales are down. The stores know it. The publishers know it. And the authors know it.

Buy that doesn’t mean the publishers have stopped publishing or that the bookstores have closed. Just like your home, and just like my work, people are just being a little more choosy. That means that if you want to sell books, your book has to stand out a little bit more. If you want to sell a book to a publisher, it has to have more going for it.

Two examples of what I mean. I walked into a Barnes and Noble the other day, not intending to buy anything. I was there on my lunch break and I love to look through the books. Not just to see how I am doing, but to see what else is new and exciting. But I got hooked by two books. The first book that hooked me had three things going for it. #1 it was by a total stud of an author, Neil Gaiman. If you haven’t read one of his books, you should. If you’ve seen the movie, Stardust, you have a very small glimpse into his unique and twisted imagination. I am awed every time I read one of his books.

The second reason I picked up the book was that it was on an end cap display. Not much the rest of us can do to match that, but I’m being totally honest. I would not have gone looking for this book because I had forgotten it was out. But the display caught my eye. The third reason I bought the book was that it had the coolest concept in the world. Imagine The Jungle Book with Mowgli being raised by ghosts instead of wolves, and in a graveyard instead of a jungle.

So I picked it up. I was on my way out the door when I bought the second book. No end cap (at least that I saw.) An author I didn’t know. A story that didn’t pique my interest right away. Why did I buy it? Because the Community Relations Manager—who I know well—suggested it. She told me it was great, and went and got it for me. I ended up buying both books. The Graveyard Book and The Hunger Games. Both were great reads. Both were well worth the dollars I am watching carefully. Buy sold me even in a tough economy. Both stood out enough that I not only bought them, but I am recommending them on this blog.

My second example is that I am trying to get Shadow Mountain to allow me to publish another fantasy novel between books two and three of the Farworld series. My Farworld books will still come out every September. But this would be an extra book that has nothing to do with Farworld. It would help me achieve my goal of writing full time a little sooner. But how do I get a publisher to agree to another book in this uncertain economy? Hopefully you’ve picked up enough from this post to guess. Buy making it stand out.

This book has to be different from what’s already out there. It has to appeal so strongly to my target audience that they will fork over money that might be watching closely. I know it should be fantasy. I know it should target the same MG/YA audience. But in this case, I don’t want it to be like all the other books out there. I don’t want dragons, or fairies, or magic. At least not in the traditional sense. I want it to be a story that makes the publisher go, “Wow! That’s a cool idea.”

Because here’s the thing. Being a great employee doesn’t guarantee you a job, but it helps a lot. Essential services are the last to get cut. And books that have a really cool concept, solid writing, and a plot that stands out from the crowd are the ones that will get sold.

You can spend the next twelve months bemoaning the slowdown, wishing you had turned in your book a year ago, and feeling sorry for yourself. Or you can decide that this just means you will have to work that much harder. When times get tough, winners don’t give up, they step up.
So what books have been good enough that you’ve offered up some hard earned cash lately? And how are you making sure you will have a job or sell a book yourself?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

*Drum Roll Please . . .*

My son will be serving in the Orlando Florida mission!!

We are very excited at our house. He leaves in January, so we'll have the holidays with him, and he'll be able to spend some time with his baby sister for her first Christmas. I'm just so happy for him and the new chapter of his life that is waiting for him.

Thank you to everyone who participated in my little contest. There were some really fun guesses!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Dislocating Your Jaw

by Sariah S. Wilson

Anybody remember my posts from earlier this year about how I would remember 2008 as the year my body gave out on me? Apparently it wasn't done.

Any explanation of how this happened ended up sounding seamy (even though it wasn't), but let's just say that I somehow managed to suffer an injury last night through extremely strange means (i.e., there's no way in the world I should have gotten hurt, but ended up having that happen anyway).

The right side of my face hurt, especially the jaw area. The area quickly became stiff, and I've found it hard to open my mouth, chew, and I literally can't close my mouth all the way.

I ended up in urgent care this morning (where the fake doctors work) and they couldn't do an X-ray on me to determine whether or not I'd actually dislocated my jaw or just sprained the tendon. So basically, if my pain increases, I should come back. And if it's not better by Monday, I should see my family physician (ya think?). The faux doctor speculated that I had a contusion/bruise internally which has caused my jaw to freeze up.

And of course, I can't have anything to help with the huge pain, except for Tylenol, which I'm pretty sure that I'm immune to.

I had to go to the store to stock up on soup and yogurt and fake mashed potatoes so that I could actually eat something. Any suggestions on food that will sort of melt in your mouth and not require chewing?

So I'm going back to lay down and put an ice pack on my face. Let's hope this is the end of body parts failing this year.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Whoppers & Time Travel -- Guest Blog by Pat Taylor

Isn't it interesting what things trigger certain memories?

For instance, there is a lady where I work who always has a well stocked candy jar at her desk, so that when anyone is lagging on the job and needs that extra little burst of energy that only a little sugar rush can give, it's always there to help us finish out the day. (I found out another reason why she does this when I had the opportunity to substitute at her desk a little bit - it gets really lonely in there, and that candy lures people in so there's always someone to talk to!)

Anyway, I digress - the other day, when I "visited" the candy jar, there were some Whoppers in it (not the usual fare) so, not caring what the fix was - just needing one, I bit into them, and was immediately transported back to junior high. I used to "forge" notes from my parents so I could leave campus at lunch time and spend all my lunch money at the little candy store on the corner. (So sorry to have to shock and disillusion you this way, don't worry - I was caught, punished, and turned away from my life of crime!)

But that's not the point - the point is how this little piece of candy had the power to bring back a certain moment in time with such complete clarity! It reminded me of one of those "portkeys" from Harry Potter - where all you have to do is touch it, and you go soaring off to another time and place...Even now the mere smell of "dotted swiss" fabric always reminds me of Easter, and my mom spending the whole night sewing fluffy little dresses to surprise me and my sisters. A whiff of chlorine from the pool still makes my stomach lurch just like it did when I took those horrific swimming lessons at age 12. There are certain songs that come on the radio, that take me back to those good old days of high school, and "dragging main" with that first boyfriend.

"Time travel" is not only possible, it happens randomly every day - you just have to stumble across the right "portal."

Isn't that the truth? For me, Whoppers just scream Halloween! Pat Taylor is a frequent visitor to the Frog Blog, an avid reader, and is currently working on her first novel, a romantic suspense. Stay tuned. On Halloween I'm going to share her research into haunted lighthouses. Thanks, Pat! You're the best!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Suspense is Killing Me!

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Most people who know me, know that I have a hard time waiting for things to happen. When my manuscript is being reviewed, I try really hard not to think about it, and bury myself in another project, because if I don’t, I will drive myself and those around me crazy. It’s the same with Christmas. My husband doesn’t even put my gifts under the tree anymore until the night before because of my temptation to peek. I can’t help it. Even when I was expecting my children I had ultrasounds that told me what I was going to have, except with one child, and it about killed me not to know so I never did it again.

Why am I telling you this, you ask? The post office called me at 7:00 a.m. this morning. I sleepily answered and the voice on the other end said, “We have a mission call here at the post office, if you’d like to come and pick it up instead of waiting for regular delivery.” I tried to make my voice sound normal as I said we’d be right down to pick it up. And guess what I have in my hot little hands right now? You guessed it. My oldest son’s mission call. It’s a nice sized white envelope with his name clearly marked on the front. I think they should put “To the parents of . . .” because then I could open it. But they didn’t. So I’m stuck waiting for my son to come home from college this weekend to open it and he can’t come home until Sunday. Which is three days away and feels like forever.

I don’t know if I can wait until then. The temptation is great, but I am trying to resist. I keep telling myself that:

  • Steaming it open is a bad idea. Surprises are fun! Lots of people love surprises.

  • This is my chance to learn patience and I can do it. I can do hard things.

  • Three days isn’t that long. I can wait for seventy-two hours. It's only 4320 minutes. Or 259200 seconds. That's hardly any time at all.

I keep saying those phrases over and over, but so far, it’s not working. I still want to know what is in that envelope and where exactly my son has been assigned for the next two years of his life. And I want to know it ASAP.

Would it be bad if I begged him to come home from college today, open his call, and then head back? It's only a six hour drive round trip. I could offer to pay for his gas.

* sigh *

Well, in order to distract myself, I have come up with a little contest. I would like you to try and predict where my son will be sent. From what I understand there are around 365 missions throughout the world. Where do you think he will go? Make your predictions in the comment section and if anyone guesses right, I will give you a signed copy of my newest book, All’s Fair.

Sound fair?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Page Turners

by Stephanie Black

What makes a book a page-turner—a book that prods you to ignore the piles of laundry and the fact that your family wants dinner today too (even though you just fed them yesterday, for pete’s sake), because you can’t bear to put that book down until you find out what happens? What elements make a book grab you in a stranglehold?

I always feel gleeful when a reader tells me one of my books kept him or her up until two in the morning (which makes me sound somewhat fiendish. I don’t normally go around disrupting people’s sleep on purpose. Okay, that’s a total lie. I disrupt people’s sleep all the time. Six A.M. and I’m flicking on the lights and making annoying ding-ding-ding- noises. “It’s Christmas!” I say sometimes, but my kids never fall for it). And truth be told, I’m thrilled to disrupt readers’ sleep, because if a reader wants to know what happens in my book badly enough to miss out on sleep, I know that something about that novel really worked for that reader. And that is very good news for an author.

Does a book have to be a page-turner to be enjoyable? Not at all. I’m currently reading a mystery that is a delightful read, and I’ll read more in the series, but I don’t have trouble setting it aside for a while. It’s the kind of book I can read a little at a time, and not feel a compulsion to pick it up every time I have a spare moment—or every time I don’t have a spare moment, in that condition known as Page-Turner Psychosis, when I push everything else in my life aside, ignoring the fact that the dirty dishes have created their own ecosystem, a child is sitting on my head, there’s no food in the house except stale Cheerios, the roof is falling in, and my daughter has dropped out of school to join a motorcycle gang—never mind all that; I have to FINISH THIS BOOK!

What makes a book a page-turner? The short answer is probably “different things for different readers.” Readers have widely differing tastes, and what one reader defines as a rollercoaster ride from page one, another reader finds dull and he gives up halfway through the book. Here are some elements that help make a book a page-turner for me:

*Characters I really care about who are in high-stakes situations. I want desperately to find out what’s going to happen to these people. I’m a suspense fan, so usually the high-stakes situations in the books I read involve life and death, but I’ve read Anne Tyler family dramas that are page-turners because I’m so riveted by the conflicts in the life of these characters and so eager to find out how they’ll be resolved.

*Multiple sources of tension, raising lots of story questions in the reader’s mind. When I was in the early stages of writing Fool Me Twice, the plot seemed too thin to me. I had my central story idea, but there wasn’t enough to it—not enough threads of tension. How could I increase the tension? What if I gave this other character her own sinister motives? What did she want and why? Things started clicking, and this new plot layer ended up being the foundation for the whole novel.

Mary Higgins Clark is a master at raising story questions, weaving multiple threads of tension that that keep a reader rapidly flipping pages.

*Pacing. No long, draggy portions where nothing happens. New developments and new information come often enough to keep the reader engaged, but the author doesn’t reveal too much too soon.

*A steady build-up to a satisfying climax. Things get worse. The protagonist is in more and more trouble. How will it all resolve?

*All-around solid writing. It might be an exciting story, but if I'm bugged by writing issues, I'll keep bouncing out of the story until I either give up or finish it with gritted teeth.

So have you read any page-turners lately? What makes a book un-put-downable for you?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Columbus Day: Blah

by Robison Wells

In case you didn’t notice, yesterday was Columbus Day. I was completely unaware of the holiday until my wife called, telling me the bank was closed. And, if you can imagine, she wanted me to give her MY money instead, so she could buy milk for our starving children. Honestly: women! Also: Columbus!

No one celebrates Columbus Day anymore. No one misses school. No one misses work. (Well, no one except the bank, but that’s forgivable: the less they’re open, the fewer chances they’ll have to fail.)

Not only does no one celebrate it, but I really wonder if we should anymore. Because, seriously, who cares? That was more than 500 years ago. You know what else happened 500 years ago? No, you don't! Because nobody cares!

So, as a public service to you, I looked up Columbus and his Day on the old Wikipedia, and here are the interesting things that I discovered.

The first Columbus day was in 1792, when New York City celebrated the 300th anniversary. There wasn’t a second until a hundred years later (perhaps because the first one was lame?), and President Benjamin Harrison honored the 400th anniversary. Here’s what I find interesting about this: we had a President named Benjamin Harrison? I have a frickin’ minor in history, and I swear I’ve never heard of him.

(I just read all about Benjamin Harrison, and can firmly declare that the reason no one has ever heard of him was because there’s nothing interesting about him at all. There’s not even anything good to make a joke about. Benjamin Harrison is boring and, like Columbus Day, he is dead to me. Dead!)

Columbus Day didn’t become an official holiday until 1934, and the current date wasn’t set until 1971. And again, my question is: why? If you read this blog, and you were alive in 1971, please confirm for me the fact that not a single soul in all of America was clamoring for a holiday to celebrate Columbus.

(Well, I just read through the Wikipedia article on 1971, and discovered that it was kind of a culturally lame year. Among the top music hits of 1971: “I Beg Your Pardon (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden)” and “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep”. Chicago was beginning their meteoric rise to overratedness. On television, All in the Family and The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour had just debuted. So, you know, maybe people wanted a holiday so they’d have more time to drink themselves to death.)

Anyway, back to Columbus Day. The city of Berkeley, California, chooses not to celebrate Columbus Day. Instead, they celebrate “Indigenous People’s Day”. This is because they’re hippies. (And because Columbus didn’t actually discover America, and when he got here he started enslaving people.)

Likewise, in South Dakota, Columbus Day is called “Native American Day”. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, it’s called “Puerto Rico-Virgin Islands Friendship Day”. I don’t know why.

In Boston, parking is free at all the meters!

October 9th is Leif Erickson Day. (He wasn’t the first European to get to America first, either, but he’s closer than Columbus.)

In Canada, Columbus Day is called Thanksgiving Day, and they eat a feast of ketchup potato chips, Shreddies, Kraft Dinner, and Figgy Duff (no relation to Hillary Duff).

Also, thanks to Wikipedia, I have just learned that there is a French Canadian food called pets de soeurs, which is kinda like a cinnamon roll. Translated literally, pets de soeurs means “Nun’s Farts”. I’m not making that up. Just thought you’d like know the crazy crap they’re inventing up in Canada.

In conclusion: I can’t support a holiday that benefits banks more than it benefits me. Also: Wikipedia is fun. Also: what’s up with those Canadians? Also, if that picture is any indicator, Columbus had a huge body and a tiny head.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Writing, Plot, or Character?

I’m still in the process of putting together a post detailing the events of my recent book tour. Here’s a link to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune. And here’s a fun picture of the Elementary school I graduated from.

But in the meantime, I thought I’d talk a little about what, in my opinion, makes a novel bad, good, or great. What I want to discuss are three of the key elements of any novel: plot, character, and writing. (Quality of writing, not, you know, writing itself—as opposed to say ballads, campfire stories, interactive hula dancing, etc.)

For some reason, lately I’ve been rereading several books. I’m reading A Wrinkle in Time to my kids, I’m rereading the Thomas Covenant trilogy, and I’m rereading Asimov’s Foundation series. Interestingly enough, the only story I’m enjoying as much as I remembered is Foundation.

Why? Well first of all, Wrinkle in Time is much slower reading than I remembered. The writing is beautiful, the characters are a little one dimensional, but the pacing is so slow, my kids’ eyes glaze over. We just finished the part where one of the women (Mrs. Who?) turns into the flying horse and flies to the top of the mountain to show the children the shadow of evil. Literally, the story reads like, “They flew higher and higher, until they were past the clouds. And higher still. But the top of the mountain still seemed far away. Meg marveled at how high they were and how thin the air was. Still the horse’s wings strained against the thin air.” Right, I get it. They are flying high. Get back to the story!

So why do I remember enjoying the book so much? Was it because of how unique it was at the time? Did that make me overlook the flaws that put my boys to sleep? Or is life just faster now? Are our expectations different because of computers, video games, etc? I don’t think it can be the pace of life because other books are still as interesting. Maybe it’s that in memory I overlook the flaws because the overall story was so good. Or maybe I just hadn’t read a lot of fantasy back then, so everything seemed more magical?

The last time I read the Thomas Covenant series was back in high school. I remembered it was darker than most fantasy. What I didn’t remember was what an incredibly annoying protagonist Thomas Covenant was. I’ve reread the first two books, and I want to grab him by the hair, and shout, “People don’t hate you because you are a leper. They hate you because you are a big selfish crybaby! Get over yourself and think about someone else for once. Come on man, you’ve spent two entire books offending people and refusing to even try to help. Man up!”

Again, why did I like the series so much back in the day? I had read Terry Brooks by then; and of course Lord of the Rings. So fantasy series weren’t brand new. But it was still pretty unique. There are parts of the story that are powerful, the writing is strong, and the world-building is amazing. But, at least to this point, I’ve had to force myself to finish each book, and it’s been a slog.

How about Foundation? I’ve heard people say how stark Asimov’s writing is. I honestly didn’t remember that. But as I go back and read his work, they are absolutely right. I don’t think there is any mention of smells, sounds, or other senses. The characters have no personality at all to speak of—except that nearly anyone of any importance smokes cigars. The pace is extremely quick. No character stays around for long. It shouldn’t be a good book. But it is. The story is just so compelling, to me at least, that I have to read more.

So what makes a good book? First of all, I have to say that greatness in any of the three above mentioned categories can override weaknesses in the other two. Asimov’s plot is so strong that the reader can forgive the fact that his writing is stark and his characters are merely placeholders. In the same way though, one major weak point can pull down the other two. Stephen R. Donaldson is a poet of a writer. His descriptions and world-building are incredible. And the overall story is powerful. But the main character is so annoying, he nearly ruins the whole thing.

Obviously, we’d love a book with great writing, memorable characters, and an incredible plot. When all the pieces are clicking, we have a book that can achieve lasting greatness. But which of the three is the most important—whether for the good or the bad?

Let’s start with quality of writing. In my experience, books that are extremely popular, with a lot of readers tend to have only adequate writing. Books that are popular with the critics tend to have incredible writing. Why? Because really beautiful prose can actually overpower a story. The average reader wants to see the hero hurl a bolt of fiery blue steel at the rushing horde of gnolls or the heroine find her true love. She doesn’t want flowery prose and vivid descriptions to get in the way of the action. Of course there is a time for flowery prose, but if the focus turns from the story to the writing, the author has intruded on the reader.

Don’t get me wrong. I love great writing. In fact, one of the best compliments I received on my tour was from a librarian who said I should thank my English teachers. She said that she reads so many children’s books that have a great story but lousy writing. But she loved my writing and my story. (Yes, I misted up a little.) J

A great plot beats great writing in my book. Imagine this crusty old miner sitting around a campfire and telling you about the time he and Bessie were trapped for three days in a collapsed gold mine with a dozen hungry rattlers. He may not use the most beautiful language. He may jump back and forth a little and overuse the word fearsome. But you are still on the edge of your seat. A Wrinkle in Time may not have had the fastest paced writing. But it was a cool story. I mean she invented IT before Stephen King did. A Camazotz is just dang spooky.

But, personally, I have to put character at the top of the list. The biggest complaint I have about many of the books I don’t like, is that I just don’t care enough about the characters. Put Julie T. Protagonist in the middle of a raging fire, with bad guys everywhere, and the love of her life in the clutches of I. M. Antagonist, and I’m just going to yawn if I don’t care about the characters. Ideally I should love your protagonist. I should definitely empathize with her. But if I don’t even care about her, your story is destined to fail.

I think characters are what made the Harry Potter series so incredibly successful. JK Rowling has a way of making you care about even the most minor character. Think about Colin Creevey. He is a thrown in. A minor walk-on character. But anyone who has read the series remembers the cute little kid with the camera. I also think that’s a huge part of the success of Twilight. People loved Edward and Bella. Of course this is also why many people were less happy with some of the later books. But the very fact that they cared enough to get that upset, shows the emotional investment the author built up in her readers.

Next week, I’ll take a stab at what makes strong characters. But for now, I’ll open the question to you. What is most important to you when reading a book? Writing, plot, or character?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why I Love The Muppets

by Sariah S. Wilson

So I started out writing a blog wondering how Nicholas Sparks has sold 50 million books. Don't get me wrong - I liked the movie version of "The Notebook" as much as the next girl, but so many of his books are just...I don't get it. I have yet to read one of his books and adore it (although I do adore movie versions of his books).

But that's depressing and might offend people, so The Muppets are definitely safer. My Muppet love affair began at an early age when I adored Sesame Street. My father would be late to work because he would sit and watch it with me. The Muppets were something we could enjoy as a family.

My mother also potty-trained me to Sesame Street (putting my chair in front of the television). I'm sure this has some Freudian application to it, but we will not be discussing this.

Then when The Muppet Show came out, I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime in order to watch it. I still know all the words to the theme song, even though the show went off the air when I was six.

I stayed an avid follower of Jim Henson's - watched all the Muppet movies repeatedly, watched Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies, and movies like "Labyrinth" and "The Dark Crystal." I adored "Farscape" (the love story of Aeryn and Crichton was simply one of the best on TV EVER) and still won't watch the SciFi channel out of protest at its cancellation. (Hear that SciFi? I don't care how good stinking Battlestar Galactica is!)

So you can imagine my delight when I ran across some short Muppet clips that were designed to be on YouTube. I am hopeful that this means we may get some sort of Muppet enterprise in the near future.

This first clip is just classic Beaker - watch how he affects himself in each of the different boxes.

This second one is also Beaker-centric (with an Animal cameo - love him!), and once you watch it, I promise you that you'll be walking around all day with this song in your head.

This one's not quite as funny as the others, but I've always loved Gonzo - keep an eye on the squabbling chickens in the bottom row - (and the comments at the end are hilarious):

I also love this Muppet Rickroll (if you don't know what a Rickroll is, our good friends at Wikipedia are here to save the day, as always). The timing on this is great, it fits well because Rick Astley was a redhead like Beaker, and it has another important Animal moment (it probably helps that "Never Gonna Give You Up" is one of my favorite songs ever and I had plans in high school to fly to England, convert Rick Astley and marry him).

Viva La Muppets!

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Lesson in Perspective

by Kerry Blair

I’ve had a better week than Wall Street, but only by a little. My greatest cause to mourn was the presumed death of a beloved laptop. Since I gave my “good” laptop to a family without a computer, I’ve been using a machine that has been to Iraq – twice. Its space bar sticks and there is no T, G or B key. I circumvented that problem by plugging a keyboard into the one still-functional USB port. (This works until the laptop keyboard kicks in for no particularly good reason and I end up with “words” suitable for communications with Alpha Centauri.)

Anyway, I love this machine. I love it because it is the means by which my son sent home “I’m fine, Mom” communiqués during the scariest months of my life. I love it because I can turn it upside down, shake it vigorously, and get a small pile of sand from the land of Abraham. I love it every time I run my hand over its gouged and battered surface and am reminded that I am one of the blessed ones – my youngest son brought it home himself. (If only one of them could return from war with all his pieces attached and in good working order, I’m glad it was the kid rather than the computer.)

When it died – or I thought it had – I was practically inconsolable. It is the only computer in the house that works with my broadband connection, so it is where I store 99% of the work I do for others. (If you think it’s bad to lose your own manuscript, try dumping somebody else’s.) It was awful. One of the first people I wrote to complain to was friend and fellow-writer Susan Corpany. Her response was the best lesson in perspective I’ve ever heard. It’s so good, in fact, that I simply had to share. So, with her permission, here is part of what she wrote:

Take a moment with me. Sit down in your most comfortable chair. Close your eyes. Transport yourself back to your high school days, the pre Post-It Note era. (No dinosaurs were roaming the earth, but some were still decomposing.) Remember typing class. Remember typewriter ribbons and inky fingers. Remember how excited we were at the invention of that little ball, how we would marvel at how fast we could make it move when we typed and there were no keys to jam. Remember when they came out with the correcting Selectric and we no longer had to erase, or use those little postage-stamp correction strips. Imagine having to type your manuscript a page at a time. (Any corrections or changes meant typing the whole page over and probably several other pages as a result of the changes.) Imagine finally being done, only to have to edit the manuscript and then retype the whole thing. Imagine doing that several times in the polishing process. Now remember the early word processors that had about a ten-page memory. Remember dot matrix printers. Now think about how blessed you are to have a computer that even though it has crashed, still contains somewhere deep within all the work you have done. Open your eyes now, and remind yourself that for a fraction of what that ten-page memory machine used to cost, you can replace your laptop. Breathe deep. Ask yourself how much you would have willingly paid thirty-five years ago if someone had offered to sell you a machine that did all that it does for you. Adjust for inflation, and you're probably still ahead. Now go buy some uncooked cookie dough and eat enough to impart comfort every day until you get your computer situation resolved.

If that didn't work, try this one. Your laptop died just as a flash flood came down the canyons and washed away your house. You had the presence of mind to grab it and climb up on the roof before the house washed away, in case your data could be recovered. Unfortunately, you did not take the time to grab any food or water. Fortunately, you are dressed. Unfortunately, you are dressed in something slinky you had put on to get your husband's attention. Fortunately, it gets the attention of the helicopter rescue crew. Unfortunately, it also gets the attention of the news chopper. Now back that up until all you've got is a dead laptop computer. Voila--perspective!

Thanks, Susan! It really is all a matter of perspective. (Did I mention that I’ve had a better week than Wall Street?) Besides, my computer started working again as mysteriously as it “died.” It must be the Marine in it. Semper fi!

Note: The author of several terrific novels, Susan is a columnist for Meridian Magazine, and contributor to Authors Den. She's promised to guest blog here very soon! (No, today doesn't count.)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

What Books Are You Reading?

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Things have been very busy for me lately. In the last few weeks, I have been taking care of a newborn, finishing the rewrite on my book, and helping my oldest son get his mission papers ready. My father is flying in today from Canada and my husband and I are blessing our baby this Sunday. Of course Monday is Canadian Thanksgiving and I’m thrilled that we can sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner with my dad and some of my close friends. I have a lot to be grateful for, that’s for sure.

In my downtime, I’ve been reading, The Host, by Stephenie Meyer. I had heard several things about the story, from “It’s no Twilight,” to “the first one hundred pages were boring,” and so on. I wasn’t expecting it to be very good, but surprisingly, I’ve liked it. It is a departure from Twilight, but the premise is interesting to me. Earth has been invaded by an enemy that makes the humans their “hosts”----the mind is taken over while the body remains intact. There is a small pocket of human resistance, however, and “Wanderer” one of the invading “souls” is tasked to help find them. Her host body is not willing to give up her mind and will so easily, though, and “Wanderer” becomes part of Melanie’s world, including hearing Melanie’s thoughts, feeling Melanie’s will, and falling in love with the man that Melanie loves. It’s a compelling story to me, very unique in its twists and turns with one body and two minds in love with one man. I’m halfway through and really enjoying the story.

Next on my “to read” list is Betsy Brannon Green’s newest book, “Above and Beyond.” It’s the sequel to “Hazardous Duty,” and I’ve been waiting impatiently to see what happens with Savannah and Dane. I am a huge Betsy Brannon Green fan and I think this is her best series so far. The characters are complicated and as always, her stories are ones that I can’t put down.

Right next to that one, is Jennie Hansen’s new historical, “The Ruby,” Vol. 4 in her Bracelet series. I’ve really enjoyed this series and have been waiting anxiously for this one, especially since it is the last volume. Jennie has a knack for bringing characters to life, but in these historical books, she has truly outdone herself. It’s been hard to wait for each volume!

There are four books on my “to buy” list that also look good. “The Shadow of the Crown,” by Jeri Gilchrist, "Eyes of a Stranger," by Rachel Ann Nunes, “Royal Target,” by Traci Hunter Abramson, and “Her Good Name,” by Josi Kilpack. Since it is my birthday next month, maybe I’ll put those on my wish list and get them sooner. But it is hard to wait when the story looks good. If only I had more shelf space at home and an unlimited book budget!

The weather is turning colder now, and to me, there’s nothing better than curling up with a blanket and a book. I have my list above, but what about you? What's on your "to read" or "to buy" list? Have you read any good books lately that you would feel like recommending?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


by Stephanie Black

It drives me crazy to have someone looking over my shoulder when I’m writing (unless the word peeper is too young to know how to read). Even if I’m writing a boring little e-mail, I don’t want someone watching the words appear on the screen as I type them. Wait until I’m done, and then you can read it. Why does it bother me so much to have someone observe the writing process? My husband suggested it’s like having someone crawl into your brain. Maybe that’s it. Or maybe I’m just neurotic. Or insecure. Or something.

I am less paranoid than I used to be years ago, long before I completed my first novel. I was so nervous at the thought of having my husband see my writing that I would name my story files as though they were letters to my family (this was in the pre-email days when I actually wrote whole letters now and then), figuring that such letters wouldn’t interest him, and thus he wouldn’t be likely to open one of the files. Yeah, it sounds silly now—my husband is a very nice man and wouldn’t have looked at my writing files if I’d simply have asked him not to—but I was very shy about what I was doing.

These days, it’s not news to anyone that I have a bunch of writing files on my computer, and I no longer give them code names. In fact, I frequently leave writing files open, just minimizing them so they lurk at the bottom of the screen. If I’m working on a file frequently, I’m not going to shut it down every time I leave my computer. This was never much of an issue until recently, when people have started crawling into my brain. See, if I have a writing file open and someone clicks on the Word icon to write their own paper, my file might bloom to full size automatically (depending on what other files are also open), tempting the person to have a sneak peek.

I could try to ban people from my computer--it is MY laptop, after all--but it wouldn’t work. With two high schoolers, one middle schooler and one elementary schooler, the computers in the house are in high demand these days. It’s amazing how often computers are needed for schoolwork these days, particularly since the curriculum for high school seniors seems to involve a great deal of instant messaging and occasional episodes of Psych (ha!). Often, more than one child needs to use a computer at the same time, so my laptop gets pressed into service.

I’m currently brainstorming the plot for my next novel, so my brainstorming file is often open. I really do not want people reading my brainstorming file. I need to feel free to jot down ideas, no matter how stupid, and to keep writing ideas until a plot emerges—which can take a while. But lately, I’ve found notes added to my notes. Where I had written something like, “What does (protagonist) want?”, a new answer was now provided for me: “Just a small piece of turtle cheesecake.” “Who is (character)?” I wrote, and came back to find out something along the lines of, “She’s a girl in my chemistry class who teaches rich people to play tennis and is surprisingly nice, considering how popular she is.” And I’m already getting critical feedback— “I don’t like your characters’ names,” my daughter remarked to me last night. Aargh! Okay, fine. I'm not attached to the names yet anyway.

I guess I’m going to have to start closing my file if I don't want eyeballs peering at ideas not yet ready for a public debut. Otherwise, I'm going to keep returning to my file to find new notes, such as last week's “I think I’ll write a biography of some inner demons.”

Then again, the inner demon thing is not a half bad idea. Maybe I should leave the file open and see what else my daughters come up with.

Georgia on my Mind

by Robison Wells

So, if we are to extrapolate anything from the last two weeks, it's that my schedule has changed: now, instead of posting on Tuesdays, I post early Wednesday morning. Also, I my blogs are quick and poorly thought out. (Well, that one's been the case since day one.)

(Also, if the last two weeks are an indicator of anything, Jeff has stopped posting? Because he spends too much time arguing with Woolley? I don't know.)

Anyway, this post will be quick because I'm leaving in ten minutes to catch a flight to sunny Atlanta. I'm going to a career conference, where 8,000 MBAs will be desperately hoping that employers haven't realized the economy is disintegrating around them, and that they'll still want to give us jobs.

I've been to Atlanta once before, back in 2005. It rained a lot, as I recall. I had a lot of spare time, and I stopped at the LDS bookstore to sign a few books. I hadn't called ahead of time, and the clerk didn't believe me that I was an author. She actually checked my driver's license, which I find absolutely hilarious.

I spent the rest of my spare time stuck in traffic. And I tried to find interesting sights--Civil War battlefields, or whatever--but the best I could come up with was the Gone With The Wind museum. I didn't go because, you know, I have some small degree of self-respect.

During this trip I'll have much less spare time, and my only current plans are to eat a bunch of southern food. I don't want to consume anything in the next four days that has not been either barbecued or deep fried. Unless it's sweet potato pie, I guess, but imagine how good that would be dipped in batter and cooked in hot oil? Mmm mmm mmm.

Anyway, I have to go. Perhaps I'll post on Tuesday next week, or maybe I'll buy a plantation in Georgia, and sit on the front porch in a white suit and drink mint juleps. We'll see.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Your Expectations of an "LDS Book"

by Sariah S. Wilson

So I wondered (on this blog a little while ago, and I would link you to said past blog, but I'm too tired) what standards an LDS author should have in the national market - whether our characters should adhere to our beliefs if they were not of our faith.

My question now is how much wiggle room do we have in the LDS market?

I'm talking about leaving out the obvious - the gratuitous or graphic scenes. But with that excluded, do you have certain expectations about a book put out by a publisher like Covenant or Deseret? Do you expect the characters to be LDS? Do you expect there to be storylines and themes that are similar to your own life?

Would you be surprised to read a fiction book put out by an LDS publisher that didn't have any LDS characters or beliefs included, and was simply a good, clean read? Or would you prefer to go to a national market to find a book like that?

If the book could not contain LDS characters (let's say it was a book set in medieval times, and by that I mean the actual era and not the pizza place), would you have an expectation that the characters would be religious? What if they weren't religious? Would it bother you?

I'll answer my own questions to get the ball rolling. I don't have expectations of an LDS publisher other than that I know I won't come across a not-fun word or something inappropriate that would make me put the book down. I think I might even have a lower expectation when it comes to those publishers because in the past (before writing and getting involved in the market) my experiences with LDS books were all bad. I'm not sure I read one LDS fiction book that didn't leave me seethingly angry by the end of it because of the sheer amount of suckitude (the past being at least 15 years ago). It turned me off to the market entirely. So when I read really good LDS fiction books (which happens so often now), I think I'm always sort of surprised (not shocked, but just happier than normal) because of the basis my expectations were built on.

I wouldn't mind a book put out by an LDS publisher that didn't have any conversions or baptisms or LDS characters. I like the idea that because I know the publishers' standards, I would know that even if the book was not overtly LDS, it would still be something I would be comfortable reading.

As for a book outside the LDS realm, I don't think I would expect it to be overtly religious because there have been lots of very good people throughout history that weren't necessarily overtly religious. It wouldn't bother me if the characters weren't.

What about you? Would you read a book published in the LDS market by an LDS author that wasn't LDS in nature?

For today's fun self-publicity, Katie Parker, genius that she is, has done a review of "Servant to a King." You can go to her blog and read it. And let me just say that the thing I probably like most about the review (besides the fact that she is so intelligent and has such obvious good taste) is that Katie GOT IT. She got the point of the book, she understood what I was trying to accomplish, and it had the effect on her that I'd hoped to have on readers. (And hopefully the review will want to make you go out and get your own copy, in case you haven't already.)