Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Donuts and Not-So Distant Memories

by Julie Coulter Bellon

My daughter says I can’t blog about how busy I am anymore, so today I’m going to tell you that I am sitting here eating cream filled chocolate donuts with nothing else to do but reflect on the StoryMakers conference.

Shall I share a few highlights? Okay, I will.

When I arrived at the conference, I received my name badge which had several ribbons attached to it because I was on the conference committee, I was a presenter, on a panel, etc. etc., so there was a ribbon for each thing. It was quite an eyecatcher because of its sheer size. One lady came up to me and looked at the ribbons and said, "Whoa, you look like you know what you're doing." (Had her fooled, didn’t I!) But our own illustrious Kerry Blair took one look at them and said, "With all those ribbons, you could be the general of a small country."


Then Rob Well passed me in the hall and said, “oh good, you’re here. You’re the star of the opening ceremonies.” That made me nervous. I didn’t know what his twisted in a not-necessarily-evil type “master” mind had cooked up. But I went to the opening ceremony nonetheless and Rob had done a “History of StoryMakers,” which told how Rachel Nunes had come to America with nothing but a typewriter on her back, and her struggle to form StoryMakers. It was hilarious. Rob had me as the prim and proper Canadian ambassador of the group who was also the “moral backbone” with a secret. He exposed my secret nightlife as a not so prim and proper dancer--like a burlesque dancer or something. Not only did I have this secret, but apparently I also influenced others in the group to pose for swimsuit photos and to generally buck at all the rules. Rob, of course, had himself as the “eye candy,” and everyone got a big laugh out of that. It was a very funny presentation and one of the highlights of the conference.

I taught my class on “Self-Editing and Revision,” and how to create carnage and put it all back together. I thought it went well and I was very proud that my power point presentation worked even though the projector was acting up all day. I also sang "The Editing Hokey Pokey," in front of the entire class. That was an awesome and unforgettable moment. Haha. But everyone in my class had some great ideas, questions, and energy. I really enjoyed that.

Another highlight was the keynote speaker Dean Lorey. He had some amazing and funny experiences to share as a screenwriter, scriptwriter, and book writer. I think he is a talented man and I can’t wait to pick up his series, Nightmare Academy. If it has any of his wit and humor, I think I will enjoy it. He was so good-natured about Jeff Savage showing the picture of him wearing Stephenie Meyer’s prom dress for a charity event. He’s definitely had some unique experiences.

Seeing the winners of the First Chapter contest was wonderful, but seeing all the entrants reading their evaluations was satisfying, too, in the fact that I knew they’d gotten really good feedback from industry professionals and they would be helped on their writer’s journey. It was my own little personal highlight, just to see that and hope the best for them.

My book signing with Nancy Campbell Allen was another highlight. She is so funny and witty, and when Jeri Gilchrist came to the table, they were quite the duo. They’re just so much fun, I could have stayed there and just laughed along with them all evening.

Shanda and Hillary interviewed me for the LDS Women’s Book Review and totally made me feel at ease. They are two very classy ladies for sure.

Lisa Mangum was a joy to chat with at our lunch table. She even signed an ARC to me, “To Julie, the very best luncheon date I could ever have.” Love you Lisa! Can’t wait to start the book!

I could go on and on with all the fun times I had at the conference meeting up with old friends and making new ones, give thank yous to everyone who helped put it all together, and tell you all the things I learned in the breakout sessions (Jeff Savage’s character bible class was outstanding!), but I’m getting gooey chocolate all over my keyboard and it’s making a mess. I do want to give a special shout out and heartfelt thank you to my husband, though, who brought my baby to me every few hours so I could nurse her, and took time off of work so I could be at the conference. He is such an amazing support and I couldn’t do any of this without him. Love you!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Amazing Weekend

by Stephanie Black

The LDStorymakers Writers Conference was AWESOME! Jeff Savage and his committee did an absolutely amazing job. The classes were filled with terrific information, and the people were all so NICE! This has got to be the most supportive, friendly, amazing group of writers on the planet. I want so much to go back next year, especially if it means I get to see Janette Rallison, the exalted one, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Stephenie Meyer. And I'm not just saying that because Janette kidnapped our frog and refuses to give it back unless certain, er, demands are met. To see a pic of how the frog got spirited away by the wily Janette, head to Janette's blog.

The Whitney Awards gala was marvelous. Kudos to Robison Wells and his wonderful committee, including our own Kerry Blair. Winning the award for Best Mystery/Suspense was . . . wow. A big wow. Huge wow. A wow I'll treasure for the rest of my life. Thank you so much to everyone who offered support and encouragement and good wishes.

Here are a few photos from the conference and Whitney Awards gala. I feel a little goofy about the fact that I'm in so many of them, but hey, there I was surrounded by all these incredibly cool people, and I wanted my picture with them! So feel free to ignore those repeat photos of me as a sort of background noise, and focus on the people I'm with. I'm sorry I didn't get more pictures of Frog Blog readers. I think next year we should have a Frog Blog photo shoot. We could gather together during one of the breaks and get a group photo. Wouldn't that be awesome?

Conference King Jeff Savage, and Julie Wright. If you notice Julie looking exceptionally happy, it's because she just got an agent! HOORAY!

Josi Kilpack, signing a copy of her new book, Lemon Tart. I've been wanting to read Lemon Tart for a while now, so I finally indulged myself and bought a copy.

Here I am with Laura Taggart, aka LexiconLuvr. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to all you blog readers who said hi to me!

Here are Nancy (N.C.) Allen (whom I got to meet for the first time this weekend!) and our own amazing frog blogger Julie Bellon. Julie taught a conference class on self-editing.

Robison Wells and Angela Eschler, Whitney Awards committee. Rob did an amazing job as Whitney president. He has now handed the reins over to a new president, who will also be completely awesome--Kerry Blair.

Tristi Pinkston and me. Tristi will be assisting next year's conference president, Jaime Theler. Go Jaime and Tristi! You ladies will do a great job.

Here I am at the Whitney Awards gala with my wonderful editor, Kirk Shaw.

. . . and with my other wonderful editor, Angela Eschler. Both Angela and Kirk worked on Fool Me Twice, so a huge thank you to both of them!

Here I am with an awesome group of ladies. Back row, from left to right: Nancy (N.C.) Allen, Marsha Ward, Gale Sears, Michele Ashman Bell, me, Kerry Blair. Front row, Jennie Hansen's daughter, Sharon, Jennie Hansen, Jennie's daughter Janice, Jeri Gilchrist.

Kerry Blair's daughter, Hilary, and her son, Matt.

Heather (H.B.) Moore, and Karlene Browning. Heather won Best Historical for her book Abinadi. Heather also won a 2007 Whitney Award for Land of Inheritance--way to go, Heather!

Here I am with author Jeri Gilchrist. Jeri was incredibly kind and generous, picking me up at the airport, letting me stay at her house, taking me to the conference, etc. Thank you, Jeri!

Michele Ashman Bell and Lisa Mangum. Lisa had 100 ARCs of her new novel, The Hourglass Door, and I was lucky enough to get a copy. I've heard great things about it, and am looking forward to reading it.

Stephanie and Stephanie--me with Stephanie Fowers. Stephanie and a bunch of Storymakers put together a hilarious music video for the conference, called "I Wanna Be a Bestseller."

The ladies of the LDS Women's Book Review--Shanda Cottam, Hillary Parkin, and Sheila Staley, along with Kerry Blair. Kerry, who makes Wonder Woman look like a wimp, received a standing ovation when her Lifetime Achievement Award was announced.

Amy Dahlke, aka Lucy Eliza. It was so much fun meeting people that I "knew" from online!

James Dashner (winner, Best Children's/YA for The 13th Reality: The Journal of Curious Letters) and Brandon Sanderson (winner, Best Speculative, for Hero of Ages: Mistborn, Book 3).

Again, thank you to everyone who made this past weekend so incredible. Until I started getting involved in the LDS writing community, I never realized that one of the greatest blessings of being a writer would be all the wonderful people I'd get to associate with, both online and in person. Thank you to all of you!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Calling All Soccer Moms (and the Whitney Awards)

by Sariah S. Wilson

I have finally taken the plunge - I have enrolled one of my boys in organized sports - spring baseball (the other son will do football in the fall). I think this makes me crazy, because the coach requires that one parent stay at the practice. My son gets home at 4:30; practice starts at 5:30 and I have to troop all the kids out myself because the husband doesn't get home until 7:00 (practice is over at that point). So besides how much it is NOT EASY to be on the field with three kids while one plays (which is a whole other blog post), I haven't quite figured out the dinner thing yet.

We typically eat dinner between 6:00 and 6:30, which would be in the middle of practice. I feed the kids before we leave? I am trying to save money, so the fast food option is out. Or I suppose I could try to do a Crock Pot sort of thing and eat when we get home, but by 7:00 at night they would be very hungry.

I'm looking for suggestions from moms/dads who have done this before who might have some insight on how best to feed the family around athletic practices.

Also, in case you forgot, the Whitney awards are being given out tonight. To follow the event, go to the website. I'm off to live vicariously because I wasn't able to go this year. Good luck to all the nominees!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I’m sitting here in my pajamas, listening to some 80’s music and trying to work through my to-do list. You see, this weekend is the StoryMaker’s Writer’s Conference, my son’s Eagle Project, my daughter’s YCL campout, and another son’s temple trip. I’ve got a lot to do before tomorrow morning rolls around.

I stayed up late last night stuffing the last of the 818 pages of evaluations for the First Chapter contest into manila envelopes. Today I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my power point presentation for the class I’m teaching, “Self-Editing and Revision: Read it and Weep—Wreaking Red-Inked Carnage on Your Manuscript.” Doesn’t that sound like a fun class? Any class with “carnage” in its title is automatically fun isn’t it? There are two other great classes being offered in the same time slot, so I hope I have a few people in mine. Or I guess I could sit alone in the classroom and admire my power point. For a first time effort, I think it’s pretty good! (I know that it’s shocking I’ve never done a power point before, but I’m a teacher and I’m old school I guess. Chalkboards/whiteboards are my comfort zone.)

Saturday is also Arbor Day, so that’s why my son’s Eagle Project was scheduled for that specific day because he’s planning out where 53 trees are going to go for a new city park. There’s a lot of details that go into that including where each type of tree should go, what materials are needed (rakes, shovels etc.), what refreshments there should be, and inviting/hoping people come to help because it’s a big project for any one person to do. So far I’m his taxi, and maybe his secretary trying to keep a little organization to his to- do list. I’m also praying the rain stays away for the first part of the morning. Planting trees in the rain doesn’t sound very fun.

Sadly, with a very long personal to-do list and an equally long kid to-do list, I’m behind in just about everything. However, I know that come Sunday morning, I’m going to be happy that the Eagle project is finally over and happy that my class is over, but sad that the conference is over. I always have so much fun getting to see old friends and meeting new friends. I hope if you’re going, you will come up and introduce yourself to me. And if I look a little frazzled, or start singing “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go,” under my breath, please cut me a little slack. Snap me out of it. Or, sing along with me. Weirdness loves company.

I guess I better go get dressed. I’ve got a lot of errands to do that require me to get out of the car. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A New Milestone

by Stephanie Black

Last week I blogged about some writing milestones. On Friday and Saturday of this week, I get to create another writing milestone. I’m going to the LDStorymakers Writers Conference! I’m going to give that statement some more exclamation points !!!!! because I’m very excited !!!!! and did I mention !!!!!!

Okay, I have myself under control now.

Never in my writerly life—starting when I was maybe eight years old and my sister and I wrote that play about fairies, and I was Fairy Winter Snow, and we performed it for our mother and—get this—we even made up some songs to go with the play, which makes it a musical—eat your heart out, Andrew Lloyd Webber--anyway, never have I attended a writers’ conference. The Storymakers Conference sounds like so much fun, and I would have loved to go last year, but it was hard to justify the trip, since I was flying out six weeks later for BYU Women’s Conference. “Next year,” I told myself. And now it’s next year, and—hooray!—I’m going!

This is a rare and special treat for me. Except for booksignings, the last time—okay, the only time—I’ve attended a writing-related event was the Covenant Murder Mystery Dinner back in 2005. That was awesome, and it was fun meeting a bunch of other authors, including Frog Bloggers Kerry Blair, Robison Wells and The-Author-Formerly-Known-as-Jeff Savage. Because I live hundreds of miles from the heart of the LDS market, I don’t often get the chance for actual in-person chatting with other LDS writers. If it weren’t for the internet, I’d have very little association with the writing community, so I’m very grateful for the online association that lets me enjoy frequent contact with other writers, no matter how many hundreds or thousands of miles separate us geographically. It’s kind of strange to realize that so many of the people I “know” via online writers’ groups or e-mail are people I’ve never met in person. And many of them will be at the conference and/or the Whitney gala. I can’t wait to meet them face-to-face! I even get to meet my awesome editor for the first time at the conference, so I’m looking forward to that.

Tomorrow, I’m heading for Utah. Since I missed a flight last year (not fun), I’m terrified at the thought of missing a plane, so a very kind friend is dropping me off at the airport very early. I’d rather sit in the waiting area for ages than be chewing my nails off in a panic if we get stuck in traffic. Writer Jeri Gilchrist generously offered to pick me up at the airport in Salt Lake, and I’ll be staying at her house. I’m excited to be spending time with Jeri, who is one of the nicest people on earth.

So to our Frog Blog readers—if you’re attending the conference or the Whitney gala, please come and say hi to me. I'd love to meet you in person!

Small, bizarre trivia fact: the dress I’m wearing to the Whitney gala matches the cover of Fool Me Twice—red and black. No, that’s not why I bought the dress. I bought it because I wanted a dressy dress for the gala, and it was on super-mega sale. The color-coordination thing was just one of life’s funny little bonuses.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I'll post more later, but suffice it to say that I just finished my very last paper of my school experience. I graduate on Friday. You may now all refer to me as master.

Bad Parent?

First, just a couple of events. Wednesday night at 6:30 I will be doing readings and signings at the Spingville, UT library with two great authors and really funny people: Jessica Day George and Janette Rallison. Drop by if you are in the area.

Also, the Strymakers Writers Conference is this Friday and Saturday. Tons of awesome authors will be there. Can't wait to see everyone who is coming. Now to the tough stuff.

Does writing automatically make you a bad parent?

As a writer, you tend to hang around with a lot of other writers. Go figure, huh? But one of the interesting things about this is the gender ratio. Not sure what I mean? Imagine taking Home Ec. in high school as a guy. If you did, you did it for one reason. Because the rest of the students were girls. Well, okay, maybe you didn’t want to get beat up by the things in wood shop. Anyway, my point is that there seem to be many more female writers than male writers. And nearly every female writer I know beats herself up about not being a good enough mom. “I feed my kids cold cereal.” “I haven’t vacuumed my house since every movie starred the brat pack.” “I once sent my son to school with nothing but a slice of cheese and a Twinkie for lunch.”

First let me just say that your kids aren’t going to remember what they had for lunch at school. Okay, maybe they will but you can just tell them that they are remembering an episode from Fairly Odd Parents. Second, your male counterparts would be 1000 worse as moms. We would feed our kids Coco Puffs with no milk because it went bad. (And we would have taken the prize out first.) We wouldn’t ever have vacuumed because we wouldn’t have thought to buy a vacuum. (That’s what shag carpet is for.) And while we would probably send our kids to school with cheese and a Twinkie, we would be proud of actually remembering to pack a lunch.

So I guess it’s time for me to confess too. I am a bad parent. No really, a bad, bad parent. I paid my nineteen year-old five bucks last week to drive out and buy fried rice at the local Chinese food place wearing a Fruit Loop box on his head. I teach them the wrong words to Church hymns. “All creatures of our God and King. Stick out your tongues and try to sing. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Oh praise Him.” The last part is sung with your tongue out of course.

When my kids scream for help because they got their head stuck in the banister or have the net basketball game collapse on them, my first thought is, “Where is the camera?” Of course none of them was permanently injured, and I got lots of great pictures.
I also lie to my kids—a lot! All of my children know that in the (fairly likely) event of a rollercoaster flying off the tracks, your only hope is to jump out and aim for the hot dog stand. I get them to bite unsweetened chocolate bars. I told my son that when he turns twelve he will get a secret decoder ring and learn a secret handshake that will get him free video games at Block Buster. I once told a ghost story at my daughters sleepover that was so scary, the guest of honor had to go home.

It’s my fault that in any large gathering (be it church or a movie) my kids start whispering, “See if you can find the woman who used a rolling pin to curl her hair.” Or, “Where’s the boy who wanted to be Pinocchio when he grows up?” Getting a laugh is the highest compliment in our house. Which is probably why my son nearly needed stitches after falling from a friend’s desk while pulling his shirt over his knees to look like a midget, and recently walked around his room with his lunchbox zipped over his head. Also, my kids have never been to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, or Mt Rushmore, but they have been to Disney Parks more than a dozen times.

So yeah. Bad parent. But somehow when I come do a presentation at their school, or get them ARCs from their favorite authors, or tell really cool bedtime stories (that are still kind of scary) they forgive me. No next time you worry about writing making you a bad parent, remember that your kids probably won’t remember what lunch you sent them to school with. And if they do, just just blame it on false memory syndrome. Kids are really gullible that way.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

It's Always Something...

by Sariah S. Wilson

I just got back from the hospital.

My in-laws are visiting this weekend because we're having the baby blessed tomorrow. We took them to a famous local restaurant - Montgomery Inn. We'd taken them to that restaurant nine years ago when they came out for my oldest son's baby blessing, and they had really enjoyed it, so they wanted to go there again. (Amazing barbecue sauce and ribs.)

We were leaving and had to stop by a store across the street from the restaurant (Montgomery Inn is on a main street of one of those classic Small Town USA areas with the adorable buildings, chimes, cobblestones, etc.). I went to the parking lot behind the restaurant to get the car.

My sister-in-law came running up and told me that my second son had been hit by a car. My first thought was that she was joking. She told me he was okay but a car had hit him. She explained what had happened as we went to where my husband waited with all four of our kids. My son was standing and seemed to be okay, but my husband said the car that hit him had driven over his foot. I insisted on looking at his foot.

Skin was torn from the ankle, and he had a weird discoloration and what looked like bruising on the outside of his foot. What had happened - they were crossing in a crosswalk where the drivers are supposed to yield. My son skipped out ahead of my husband (who had a baby in each arm), and my husband called him back, but it was too late. A driver came barrelling through the crosswalk and my son stopped just in time and turned away from the car; another step or two and the car would have flattened him. Instead it just ran over the outer part of his foot.

The woman realized she had hit my son, and rolled down her window and said, "I'm sorry, I didn't see him." Still in shock my husband replied, "You just hit my kid with your car!" To which her response was to roll up her window and DRIVE AWAY. Fortunately she drove slow enough and my husband had enough presence of mind to write down her license plate number.

I insisted he call the police - it still dumbfounds me that someone would run over a kid and then drive away. Fortunately for us, an orthopedic doctor just happened to be driving by and pulled over to see if he could help us. He checked out my son's foot. A hostess from Montgomery Inn had been a nurse and helped out. Police, EMTs and firefighters all arrived immediately - their main concern had been that he might have hit his head. But he hadn't fallen at all or hit his head. The EMTs offered to take him to the hospital in the ambulance, but we declined because both the doctor and the EMTs thought the foot probably wasn't broken and he didn't really need the ambulance. We could drive him there ourselves.

Which I did, and I am pleased to say that it was probably the best emergency room visit I've ever had. From start to finish it was only two hours. I think that's fairly amazing. The end result was that the bones were not broken and we were free to go. He does have pink and purple tire tread imprints on his foot that hurt when they're touched, but he's able to walk around.

He's a trooper (the police even gave him a badge sticker for being such a brave kid). The police had located the woman's information immediately, and offered us some options. At the lowest level we could get her insurance information to pay for the hospital visit, and we could ask that the DMV re-test her vision (she's 81). At the highest we could press charges that would essentially be at the felony level. I thought the police made that call. But it turns out that because we're the injured party, we have to decide. It feels like way too much power to have and I'm not really sure what to do. So far everyone I talked to thinks we should definitely press charges, but another part of me leans toward leniency and compassion.

I don't know why sitting in a hospital makes you so tired. I wasn't doing anything but playing games on my phone and reading entertainment websites. But I'm totally exhausted. So I'm off to bed. Hopefully tomorrow will be a lot less eventful than today.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Magazines A-Plenty, Books Galore

by Kerry Blair

As a young Relief Society president I was sent to rescue an elderly woman from what the bishop called “deplorable living conditions.” There was a single over-stuffed chair in the living room, a tidy table and folding chair in the kitchen, a neatly-made twin bed in one of the two rooms off the hall, and a mostly-accessible toilet in the bathroom. The problem? These bits of random furnishings—and a major appliance or two—could be accessed only by passing down narrow passageways carved through towering cliffs of newspaper, magazines, and books. It was the most awe-inspiring thing I had seen in my life. (Clearly, the bishop had sent the wrong person.) I wept with joy and embraced the sister as a kindred spirit.

Left to my own inclinations, I would be that woman. Every day I tear articles from the newspaper and print stories and pictures from the Internet that might possibly have something to do with a book, story, article, or blog I may write someday. (Perchance.) Until I find time to categorize and file these invaluable sources of minutiae, I drop them in a basket or tuck them into a crevice of a bookshelf. Time passes. The newsprint yellows. The computer paper crumples. What were once invaluable treatises come to look very much like trash, so I take a deep breath, gather them all up, and haul my stash out to a waiting bin. Then I start the process over.

I am trying to determine if I need professional help. Do any of you gather words like a crazed chipmunk going after the last kernels of nourishment on earth? Do you or anybody you know agonize over pitching a perfectly good magazine after reading it cover-to-cover? I have periodicals from 1901 through yesterday; hundreds of them—mostly in the garage, hidden under camping supplies and secreted behind food storage containers so nobody can mistake them for garbage. Many have been soiled and/or consumed by mice but, hey, parts are still readable. I fear this rationale is not rational.

And that brings us to my books. I have collected (read: hoarded) books since I was old enough to look at pictures and sound out SP-O-T. Besides most of my preschool favorites, I have complete sets of The Bobbsey Twins through Nancy Drew and on into Text Books of the American Lyceum Circle, The World’s Best Orations (1-3350) From the Earliest Period to Present Time—with “present time” being 1899. (Still, that has to be the best-titled book series ever. How could I ever part with it?) Cicero supposedly said that a room without a book is like a body without a soul. If that is true, we are undoubtedly the most soulful house on the block. (Possibly the planet.) There is not a room, porch, cupboard, garage, shed, or cranny on this property that doesn’t have books in it.

Recently, before the cliff walls grew high enough to attract the attention of the bishop (or fire marshall), I decided to cull a few tomes of my own free will and choice. Thus far I have sent a truckload of books back out to enrich the rest of the reading world. I did this mostly because I had been assured by authors of books on clutter and feng shui that restoring order and spaciousness to my home would be a cathartic and freeing experience. It wasn’t. It was painful in the extreme. I’d read every single book I gave away—some more than once—and formed a meaningful relationship with each. While I tend to call my youngest son by the wrong name some days, I can remember most books I’ve read, when I read them, and how I felt at the time. While I was too embarrassed to comment on the book lists Rob posted last week, I’ll come clean now: I’ve not only read 70 to 80 books on each list, I’ve owned most of them at one time or another. (Also, Dickens and Steinbeck are among my closest personal friends. So there.)

Since I still have a ways to go before I can convince the men in white coats carrying straightjackets that I don’t have a book fetish, I need help paring down even wore. When it comes to your best-loved books, how do you decide who goes and who remains? (And don’t tell me books are “whichs” not “whos.” They are “whos” to me.) If it’s highly unlikely that you will ever again want to sojourn in the country or frolic on the seashore with the Bobbsey Twins, do pass them on? (Even if you’ve had them your whole life and distinctly remember how they got you through measles, mumps, and chicken pox?) Or say one reading of J. Proctor Knott’s “The Glories of Duluth,” delivered 27 Jan 1871 as the House of Representatives debated the St. Croix and Bayfield Railroad Bill, is probably enough. Do you let all ten volumes go? (Even if they are hand-sewn, kid-bound, and contain some of the most remarkable thoughts and photogravure of the centuries?) Do you keep your personal favorites regardless of genre, or settle on preserving just the classics of literature, even though they can be read—and cross-referenced—on the Guggenheim site? (And if you don’t save the classics, what do you do if or when you meet Charles Dickens or John Steinbeck in the after-here? How will you possibly justify tossing Great Expectations or The Pearl after they changed your life?)

This is too hard for me. I desperately need advice—if not a hand in carting away a tome or twenty. If you don’t come through, I fear I’ll resort to perusing the vast cyber-shelves at Amazon for a 12-step book on overcoming book addiction. And you know what will happen then . . .

Or maybe I am over-reacting. My family can still make their way to the sink, fridge, and toilets. Besides books, what more does anybody need?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Call 1-800-GET RID OF JUNK

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Our family has been doing a big project---cleaning and reorganizing our storage room. It’s a very big job because a lot of stuff has gotten crammed in there. As we’ve been pulling stuff out, we’ve found a lot of things that we thought we would need one day, but have never used. Some in the family wanted to keep it, thinking we might still need it someday, and others thought we should just get rid of it, so we can have a nice spacious storage room.

I think writing is a lot like this. When I draft my manuscript I’ve got a lot of stuff and ideas crammed in there. When I go back and revise and edit, sometimes I think to myself where did that scene/character/bit of dialogue come from? It’s like my own little personal word storage. I hesitate to get rid of it in case I need it, but the reality is, it probably has to go so I can have a nice flowing story that isn’t bogged down by junk. But how do you make the decision about what to keep and what to get rid of?

Here are a few ideas for getting rid of word junk:

Each character/scene/bit of dialogue should be essential to your story. Don’t have extraneous characters that don’t matter. If you’re talking about Uncle John watching the funeral from the corner, don’t just leave that story bit hanging---use it. The reader may or may not think of that as a clue to your mystery, but you can use it. If you don’t plan to use it and Uncle John was just a throwaway line or filler, cut him out.

Don’t use laundry lists of description words. "It was a lazy sunny June day where even the bees buzzed quietly." Writers are painting a word picture and when you do that it’s like throwing paint balloons on your canvas and hoping your reader doesn’t notice that your picture is obscured. They will. Cut that all out if you do it. Be precise and keep an eye on the big picture.

Don’t use passive voice. Make your voice work. Passive voice always has that “I’m telling you the story,” feeling that puts readers to sleep. “A new light was being installed by the electrician,” is much easier to read as, “The electrician was installing a new light.” Cut out the passive and make it direct and active.

Pay attention to the comments from your test readers or critique group. Ask them if there were any points that were confusing or boring and if there were, cut them out or at least pare them down and rewrite them into something direct and exciting. Even if it's your favorite scene that you loved, you have to be able to cut it or make it into something else. It's like cutting up your favorite old writing shirt. It's still useful, but in a different way. Which can be hard, but sometimes you just have to do it.

Find your favorite word. Everyone has one. I see a lot of authors use the words “really” “actually,” or “just.” Cut all of those out. They are filler words and rarely needed.

Don’t keep saying the same thing over and over. I recently read a chapter where the main character was described three times. Readers generally don’t need to be hit over the head. Avoid being redundant and saying the same thing, even if you’re saying it in a different way. If you make your words powerful enough, the reader will remember the first time and that will suffice.

So my storage room that was stuffed with stuff is now looking quite nice with a lot more space to move around in. It was hard to get rid of some things, but in the end I think it was totally worth it. Getting rid of extra stuff can be freeing, both in my house and in my writing, but it’s definitely a process. My house shouldn’t be a storage place for unused and unneeded items and my novel shouldn’t be a word storage place for unused and unneeded descriptions, characters, or dialogue.

So my new mantra is: Toss the junk!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Writing Milestones, or I Get Inspired by Julie

by Stephanie Black

Julie’s post last week on Remembering the Journey inspired me, so today I’ll blog about some of my writing firsts.

First time I finished a manuscript:

Um . . . heck. I should have written this down at the time. I can’t remember the moment! The first manuscript I finished was five-hundred-something pages (and it got longer before it got shorter. At its longest it was well over six hundred pages. The final draft clocked in at 430 pages). But I can’t remember the triumphant instant when I finished it—that moment when I’d really done it, I’d reached The End, I’d written a whole novel! And it’s a bummer that I can’t picture that moment, because that’s a REALLY significant writing milestone. The moral to the story: take Julie's advice and write things down.

First time I submitted a manuscript:

It was in March 2002, and was the culmination of a decade and a half of writing. Yep, fifteen years. From the time I first started playing around with a story idea to the moment I drove to the post office and put a manuscript in the mail to a publisher was just a few months short of fifteen years. I didn’t work steadily on writing all that time—I didn’t do a lot with it for much of college—but once I was married and home with my first daughter, I started writing more regularly. And after years of writing and rewriting and reading fiction technique books, I finally reached the point of sending my work to a publisher. That was a giant milestone.

My kids made a sign for the back of the car celebrating my novel, and they all came along for the ride. At the post office, the worker asked me if I wanted to send it book rate, but I turned red and said no (Did she know I had a manuscript in that neat cardboard box? Aaarrgh!).

I had cheesecake from Costco to celebrate.

First rejection:

Three weeks after submitting my manuscript, while chatting on the phone to my sister, I went out to the mailbox to get the mail. There I found a nice business-sized envelope addressed to me—the SASE I’d included with my manuscript.

Oh, wow. What would it say? Nervous and excited, I took it inside. While still on the phone, I opened it. It contained a polite letter from the publisher, rejecting my manuscript. Form rejection.

I wasn’t devastated, but it was a wake-up. Yeah, I had known intellectually that rejection was part of the business, but hey, my book was good, right? Then to have a form rejection come so fast that I didn't think they'd even read my manuscript—I figured they must have looked at my cover letter and summary and concluded it wasn't something they wanted—well, that was a reality check.

First communication from a publisher that wasn’t a rejection. It wasn’t an acceptance either, but it was definitely progress:

It had been over six months since I’d submitted my manuscript. I was taking the trash out and stopped by the computer to check my e-mail. It was late in the evening—we were living in Ireland, so we were seven hours ahead of Utah time. There in my inbox was an e-mail from Covenant.

Talk about an adrenaline jolt.

You know, that’s the weird thing about getting letters or e-mails from publishers. You spend countless hours writing and polishing a novel. Not only do you have a huge amount of time invested in that book, but you have an emotional investment as well. You submit the book to a publisher and you wait—knowing that your hopes and dreams for that book can come crashing to the dirt in the miniscule amount of time it takes you to read the first line of an e-mail. That’s scary.

Anyway. I read the e-mail, and it was encouraging. They couldn’t use the book in its current form, but they thought it had potential. They were offering me the chance to rewrite and resubmit.

If you’re familiar with the business of publishing, you know that an invitation to rewrite and resubmit is VERY good news—the second-best news to “we’ll take it!” So I was excited.

I've gotta go, but I'll blog about more firsts another time. Speaking of wake-ups, the IRS is mighty greedy when it comes to royalties. Sigh.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Whitney Awards Are NEXT WEEK!

Hey all,

So, Tuesday's nearly over and I'm just getting around to posting today. This is nothing new, so I won't even mention it.

Yesterday, Segullah blogger Emily Milner posted her Whitney predictions, which I found absolutely fascinating. I don't have time to write anything today, but I thought it would be interesting to see all of your predictions. Leave them in the comments--be anonymous if you'd like. I'd be interested to see both who you think should win and who you think will win.

(Disclaimer: just because you're posting anonymously doesn't mean you get to be a jerk. Let's keep the discussion intelligent, not personal.)

If you're interested in coming to the gala, you can still reserve tickets until noon tomorrow. Click here. It will be on April 25th at 6:30pm, at the Provo Marriott.

In other news, here are a few of the pages from this year's gala program. It was designed by Natalie Raevsky, a good friend of mine and great designer.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Happy Easter!

It's nearly 11:00 at night here and I've just managed to finish up celebrating my birthday today and finishing up the Easter stuff (Easter is pretty sparse this year gift/candy-wise - I was just not up for shopping at all). And I had to do all of it one handed (while holding a fussy baby in the other hand).

So I'm weighing sleeping versus blogging, and I hate to tell you, but the prospect of sleep is winning. The baby has finally started sleeping in four hour blocks at night, but still, four hour blocks. Still not really letting me get the necessary sleep I apparently desperately need (at least according to the big black bags under my eyes). (And the toddler has decided that 5:00 is better than 6:00 for getting up in the morning. If I leave her in bed she screams the entire time, and so I can either get her up and have her happy or leave her sobbing in her room. Either way I'm not sleeping, so at least by getting her up one of us can be happy.)

Anyway...I was thinking our Easter stuff is pretty typical. We color eggs, hide the eggs, have baskets and the Easter Bunny hiding eggs with an Easter egg hunt, go to church and then later on we have Easter dinner (ham). My mom was never really into Easter the way she was into Christmas, so we don't have many family traditions associated with this holiday.

I was trying to think of ways to incorporate traditions in our family to make the holiday more spiritual and meaningful, so I thought I would ask our blog readers to post in the comments any traditions they practice or have heard of that might help us to be better about incorporating Christ into our Easter celebrations.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

by Kerry Blair

Every family should have a religious zealot. Ours was my Great Aunt Polly. While the rest of the family were the kind of Christians who went to church every other Easter—whether they needed religion or not—Aunt Polly read her Bible two hours every day and quoted from it the remaining twenty-two. (This is according to my grandmother who insisted that her youngest sister preached constantly, even in her sleep.) Fiery of hair and temperament, Aunt Polly was my idol. I was her only convert.

I had scarcely opened my eyes—the firstborn of my generation of cousins—when Aunt Polly set out to save my little soul. I knew “Jesus Loves Me” well before “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” and pretty much believed that all nursery rhymes and fairy tales were about Jonah, David, Daniel, et al. Sitting on my bedside table this morning are a tattered cloth Baby’s First Bible, a well-worn edition of Bible Stories for Children, and a now-antique King James Bible that has every word spoken by Jesus printed in red. I’ve thumbed through each of them this week, studying and praying . . . and remembering Aunt Polly . . . in preparation for Easter.

Easter and Aunt Polly will always be inseparable in my mind. Nothing so thrills a girly-girl than donning a frilly dress, white gloves, shiny patent leather shoes, and a beribboned Easter bonnet.

I lived for Easter Sunday.

I hated Good Friday. I saw nothing “good” about it. Aunt Polly’s church held a service called “The Passion” that lasted from noon until three—the time that tradition says Christ spent on the cross. We wore somber colors, sat outdoors on cold, hard folding chairs before a huge wooden cross, and observed a seven-point service based on the phrases uttered by Jesus during his crucifixion. I usually misted up at 12:15, started crying before one, sobbed inconsolably by 2:30, and didn’t recover until sometime Saturday afternoon. If then.

Good Friday? Puh-leeze.

Age, education and a better understanding of the atonement have (thankfully) changed my perspective. It helped immensely to learn in my teens that Good Friday is likely a derivative of “God Friday” just as good-bye has evolved from “God be with you.” What changed my paradigm most, of course, was being taught the gospel—the good news—that Jesus lives and that what I learned as a toddler is infinitely true: He does love me. That Jesus Christ, the Son of God, atoned and died for us is something upon which to reflect every day—not just once a year.

Another thing I learned along the way is that “passion” and “patience” come from the same Latin root word and mean to suffer or endure. When the Christian world talks of the Passion of Christ, they recall the suffering He endured on the cross. But we recall this (and much more) every week as we take the sacrament. Then, in remembrance of that eternal-life altering event, we take upon us His name and promise to undertake our small measures of passion every day of our lives.

When we serve someone who is difficult to love, forgive someone we think is unworthy forgiveness, or endure discomfort rather than imposing it upon others, we are in small ways embracing the principle of the Passion. We can never bear—nor even understand—what Christ bore for us, but we can endure cheerfully what we must for Him.

Easter is still my favorite day of the year, but Good Friday isn’t far behind. It is a day to commemorate one like no other in human history—the day when Our Father gave His Only Son; a day when Our Eldest Brother gave His life (after giving His all) because He too, loves us and wants us to be with Him again: forever to live, and finally to understand.

Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Remembering the Journey

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I love the sound of pattering rain on the roof. There’s something very relaxing about it and I stayed in bed for just a few minutes more than usual this morning to listen. I wished I could have laid there longer, but I had Mommy duties to attend to and got up. As soon as I had a free moment, though, I took my baby out to our covered porch and we just watched the rain come down. It was amazing watching her see her first real rainstorm. She held out her little hand and looked back at me, as if to say, “Look at that!”

It was one of those moments where I wanted to remember it forever. When I look back on my top ten little moments with each child, I want to remember standing there with her, in her innocent little baby-ness, and staring in wonder at the rain. But, as a mother of seven, I know I will probably forget. Unless I write it down.

Just like in my mother's journey, there are several first moments in my writer's journey that I want to remember and have written down somewhere.

The first time I finished a manuscript

The day I first submitted something (and told the poor post office teller all about it.)

The first time I got a rejection letter (and consoled myself with the fact that there was a spelling error in the rejection letter.)

The first time I got an acceptance letter (or email as the case might be.)

The first time I saw the cover of my book (and tried to decide if I loved or hated it.)

The first time I opened a box of my books (and was finally able to quit looking out the window for UPS trucks every five minutes.)

The first time I saw my book on a store shelf (and restrained myself from pointing out to everyone nearby that I was the author of that book and asking them to take pictures of me next to the shelf.)

The first time someone came up to me and said they’d read my book (and liked it.)

My first book signing

My first royalty check (and the celebration dinner that night.)

In my journey as a writer, these are little milestones I want to remember because they’ll never happen again. I will never recapture the innocent feelings I had as I sent my first manuscript off because my experience has changed me. I still get those giddy feelings every time one of my manuscripts is accepted, but there’s nothing like that very first time of holding that letter in your hands and wanting to simultaneously yell, laugh, and tell everyone you know. I try to do the writerly thing and keep a journal, but someone suggested to me once that you could write your feelings in the first book you take out of your author copy box and keep that as a remembrance. Or write something on your calendar and take a picture of it. The important thing is just to do something to remember that time in your life.

Like my little girl, holding out her hand as if to say, “Look at that!” maybe someday you are going to want to point to your journal, book, or calendar and say, “Wow, remember when I wrote that?”

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Promotional Hall of Shame

by Stephanie Black

A writer friend with a new book coming out soon learned, to her surprise, that bookstore managers aren’t keen on scheduling booksignings right now. I don’t know the reasons, but I’m not devastated. Truth is, I . . . um . . . er . . . well, don’t tell anyone, but booksignings aren’t exactly my favorite thing to do.

Okay, let me qualify that. I enjoy some parts of booksignings. It’s fun to talk to people, and to meet wonderful, supportive bookstore employees. It’s a thrill when someone comes specifically to see me (I’m so non-famous that this doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s awesome). I also enjoy signing with another author. This is about a thousand times better than signing solo. With another author next to me, I’m not in this alone, and I have someone to chat with in the dead times.

Fact is, I’m simply not a very good salesperson. Sitting at a table, smiling at people when they enter the store and offering them bookmarks, hoping that someone will take an interest in my book . . . urghh! Yes, I KNOW you’re not supposed to just sit at your table. I know you’re supposed to roam and hand out bookmarks and meet people that way when they aren’t stopping at your table. At my last round of signings, I did force myself out of my chair now and then to hand out a bookmark or two. But I don’t like it. I do it because I don’t want the bookstore employees to think I’m a dud. And here’s something I’ve never figured out: how exactly do you apply the roaming principle if it’s a slow day at the bookstore? You can’t go around stalking the only two customers in the store.

In a list of tips for successful signings, it said something about offering your book to people, because if you can get them to hold it, there’s a higher chance that they’ll buy it. Here’s my problem applying that principle: besides being an introvert, I know how I would feel if I were a customer in Seagull Book, and an author approached me and offered me her book. This is what would happen: I’d take the book and say something like, “Oh, cool!” (in a perky voice). Meanwhile, I’d sweat, my heart would race, and while I read the backliner with the author looking on, I’d be frantically wanting to escape. Knowing how uncomfortable I’d feel, how can I do that to someone else? Yes, I know not everyone is as wussy as I am, and most people probably wouldn't have issues with glancing at the book, handing it back, and saying, "No, thanks" if they didn't want it, but I have an overdeveloped sense of guilt, so for me, that situation would be uber-awkward.

Confession: in my pre-author days, I would have taken the “Don’t make eye contact! Don’t make eye contact!” approach if I entered a bookstore and saw an author doing a signing. Now, I’d be a lot more likely to go up and chat with the author, because I know how it feels to be sitting at that table. Yes, you want people to buy your book, but even more than that, you want people to come talk to you. So if you go into a bookstore and see an author, you don’t have to buy her book, but if you go greet her and chat with her, she’ll bless your name for generations.

Anyway, there it is. I'm a wimp. Strangely, they haven't asked me to teach a class on book promotion at the upcoming LDStorymakers Writers Conference. Go figure.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Reading Lists of Shame

by Robison Wells

It was my birthday on Saturday. (Thanks for remembering. If you put a gift in the mail now, you can still claim that the mailman was slow and you didn't actually forget!) After General Conference, I went to my brother's house and played board games. He said it was for my birthday, but you shouldn't believe him. He celebrates every event by playing board games. I imagine that someday when my parents die, Dan will call me up and say "Since you're going to be in town for the funeral, why don't we play a little Age of Conan?"

He also invited two other people to this game playing party, one of whom is called Ben and the other of whom is called Lovebasket. Ben is notable because he appears in all three of my books (as the small sidecharacter "Ben"). Lovebasket is notable because he never shows up on time to anything.

So, while sitting around my brother's house, waiting for Lovebasket, I found a book and began to read. I was on the third page when my brother, who was scurrying around trying to get his kids to bed, came into the room and asked what I was reading. I told him it was Dune, and that I'd never read it before. I can't remember what was said in reply, but I know it was derogatory and condescending*. Any writer worth their spice would have read Dune.

I knew that, of course. Dune, if you're not aware, is considered the Lord of the Rings of science fiction. I'd always meant to read it, but I'd just never gotten around to it. (As I left his house, I asked to borrow it, and he replied "Yes, and if you like it then maybe we can still be friends.")

In related news, Masterpiece Theater has begun showing several mini-series based on Charles Dickens' books, and my wife and I have been eagerly watching them every Sunday night. Erin and I were trying to think back to high school and list the Charles Dickens books we'd read, and I was ashamed to say that I'd read embarrassingly few of them. In the eighth grade I read the abridged version of Great Expectations, and the next year I read A Christmas Carol. As a junior I was supposed to read David Copperfield, but never did, and later in life (not in school) I listened to it on CD.

But, I have never read his other great novels, not even A Tale of Two Cities, even though it's the only one I actually own.

In fact, due to the fact that I didn't come to like writing (and even reading) until late in life, I am painfully poorly-versed in the classics department.

To better illustrate this fact, I just searched the internet for lists of books, and I present my findings with shame:

  • Time Magazine listed the 100 Greatest Novels of All Time. I have read nine of them.

  • Random House made their list of the 100 greatest, and I've only read five of them. However, Random House also polled readers for a Reader's Choice, and I've read twelve of those.

  • Prentice Hall has a list of 100 suggested books for reading in high school, and I've read 19 of those. (Hooray! I've read almost one fifth of the high school reading list! Only thirteen years late!)

Anyway, I know that you'll be inclined in the comments to complain about the books on these lists, and you're welcome to. But, my point isn't about what's on the lists; it's about the fact that I haven't read an awful lot of books, and I should have.

So, let me pose the question to you. What books are you ashamed to admit you haven't read? I'm not asking what books you don't want to read, but what books have you always meant to get to, but never have?

To start this embarrassment-fest, here are a few of mine:

I have never read (and I would like to have read):
The Great Gatsby
Jane Eyre
Anything by Jane Austen besides Pride and Prejudice (which I haven't actually read either, but listened to).
The Diary of Anne Frank
Catcher in the Rye
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
The Foutainhead
A Brave New World
Anything by John Steinbeck besides The Grapes of Wrath

So, what haven't you read?

*More than usual, I mean.

Are You Smarter Than a Turtle?

First, let me say thanks to all the fun comments from my April Fools post. Sorry to everyone who thought it was a real post. As my kids said, “They don’t know Dad very well do they?” I’m kind of known around the house for my teasing—which sets me up for some pretty good April Fools pranks from my kids and wife too.

Second, if you are in the West Jordon area, drop by the Jordan Landing Barnes and Noble tomorrow night, where James Dashner—author of 13th Reality and the forthcoming Maze Runner— and I will be signing books and giving away posters. Should be a lot of fun, even if my series is better than his!

Finally, thanks to everyone who came to the Pleasant Grove Library signing. It was a lot of fun. And thanks to Julie Bellon, I broke my one cardinal signing rule (never sign body parts) and signed her daughter’s arm with permanent marker. (Hey I told her I would if her mom said okay. How could I go back on that?)

Last fall I adopted a turtle. A red-eared slider to be precise. Up until I got the turtle, all I knew about them came from cartoons. Which means that they are slow, dull witted, and shy. They tend to say things like, “Duh . . . which way did that rabbit go?” or “Saw the whole thing, dude. First you were all like "whoa", and we were like "whoa", and you were like "whoa..." Understanding that cartoons might not be the final word in pet raising, I actually got a book on the subject. The book was somewhat more informative. It taught me things like: turtles shed, they are omnivores, and they need both a heat lamp and some other lamp that costs like $10 per bulb. (I think it might be some kind of projector bulb for the turtle’s home theater.)

What the book didn’t say is that turtles have attitude, can climb chicken wire fences, do an incredible “I want food” dance, and have a mean temper. You think I’m kidding about this? I am not. We went out and got a fifty gallon tank, heater, the aforementioned two lamps, a kind of turtle chase lounge, and a filter. Within 24 hours the turtle decided he hates the filter. Remember the scene in Finding Nemo where Nemo swims into the filter of his aquarium to block it with a rock? Well that fish has nothing on Yoshi the turtle. Suction cups don’t stop him. Rocks don’t stop him. Chicken wire fences don’t stop him. The little dude is relentless. And he doesn’t just pull the filter off the aquarium wall. He dismantles it and chews on the pieces.

Yesterday, I finally went to war. We have a chicken wire fence bent into an L shape that is supposed to protect the filter in the corner of the tank. We have rocks pushed up against it. Rocks that weigh more than Yoshi. But he pushes them aside, yanks the fence down, or squeezes past it. I think I might finally have beat him. I used a pair of wire snips to cut about two inches off the bottom of the fence and bent it out as a base. I piled the rocks on the bottom of the base, and then added the ultimate weapon. Duct tape along the top of the fence above the water line.

Even with all that, the one turtle wrecking team hasn’t given up. He nearly climbed completely over the fence. Have you ever seen a turtle clinging to the side of a chicken wire fence with all four feet? It’s crazy. And you should see him studying the duct tape with intense scrutiny—like he’s wondering if a little plastic explosive might do the trick.

So, what, you might ask, does this have to do with me? I don’t have to worry about chicken wire or duct tape. And I would pay for a device that constantly kept my house clean. Fair enough, but my question is to you have the determination to attack a problem until you find a solution? I speak in particular of the dreaded writers block. That moment nearly every writer hits when the flowing fountain of story drops to a dribble and eventually turns off. What do you do when writers block hits? Do you give up? Or do you fight? And if you do fight, how long do you keep fighting?

Here are ten ideas for overcoming writers block.

1) Decide what is actually being blocked. Have you lost your desire to write completely or are you just stuck on your current work? If you have lost your love of writing, maybe you are just not writing what you love. Don’t let writing turn into a job. Stop thinking about what you “have” to write and start thinking about what you’d really love to write, then do it.

2) If you are stuck in your current work, are you stopped cold? Or are you just having trouble with the current scene? If you are stopped cold, there is a very good chance you have a problem with your story. Step back from the trees and look at the forest. Stop trying to force a story that isn’t working and figure out what needs fixing before you put down another word. Remember this is not about rewriting your entire manuscript; it’s about finding the problem and fixing it.

3) If you are stuck on a scene, skip it. Literally, just put in a note that says, “insert something interesting here,” and skip to the next part that you are comfortable with.

4) Spend lots of time lying under a heat lamp, then get back to work. (This is from Yoshi.) Take a break. I offer this solution with a great deal of caution. Side effects can include never finishing your book. But sometimes a break is what you need. Life has to come before writing. If you are dealing with so much stress in your life that you can no longer write, stop writing, fix the stress and return to writing.

5) Don’t try to edit and write at the same time. Some people are actually very good at writing and editing as they go. If that is you, keep doing what works. But for many people, editing as you go is a trap that sucks you in and kills your story’s momentum. The more you reread your story, the more editing it needs. And the more your edit, the more you start to feel that the whole thing stinks. It’s like saying the same word over and over until it makes no sense. Just remember that most authors hate their work at one point or another. You can always come back and fix things later, but only if you push through to the end.

6) On the other hand, sometimes a break is exactly the wrong thing to do. Writing can be a habit. Write every day and your mind gets used to writing. It’s addictive. But stop for too long, and you can break the habit. If the current story is stuck in neutral, write something else. Another book, a short story, a journal. Just don’t forget that the goal is to get back to your current work.

7) One of the biggest problems for beginning writers is starting a story when all they really have is a beginning. Do you know how the story is going to end? If not, you just diagnosed your problem. Stop writing and go back to plotting you don’t need to know all the story. But at least know where it will end.

8) Write out of order. Again this doesn’t work for all writers. But if you are struggling with a current scene, try writing scenes you are more excited about. You can always cut and paste later.

9) Get feedback. I know it’s hard to show a work in progress to someone else. But if the train isn’t moving, you may need a different perspective to see if it has run completely off the tracks.

10) Cut. Sometimes the problem is that you are in love with a scene that doesn’t work. You are so enamored with your beautifully written scene that you don’t realize it doesn’t fit the story. If cutting is too painful, think of it as storing that scene. Save it in another file that you can always bring back later in this story or something else.

Remember that all of these are only suggestions. If one doesn’t work, try another. What works for you may not work for someone else. But the key is to keep trying things until something succeeds. Take Yoshi’s advice. If butting your head against the rocks isn’t getting you closer to your goal, try pushing past the fence, or even climbing over it. But don’t give up. You and your story deserve better than that!
Oh, and before I forget, I big shout out to my friends at Oakcrest, Westland, and Riverton Elementary schools. You guys rock!! See you at B&N!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Need Some Free Printer Paper?

by Sariah S. Wilson

I blogged in December about how our family's financial woes transformed my life and made me into a deal seeking saver. Now, there's some frugality I'm not comfortable with (I am drawing the line at dumpster diving), but I really am trying my best to maximize my savings and use as little money as possible.

For example, yesterday I took an almost 2-year-old and a screaming infant to Walgreen's (the whole taking the baby out of the house now that he's a month old so far seems to be sort of a bust). I got two cans of formula, two Glade soy candles and four packages of Mentos gum, which initially rang up as $46, but I only paid $9 out of pocket. (Woo-hoo for coupons!) It's been difficult getting myself back into the groove of things with the baby (not as much time for organizing coupons and setting up/going on shopping trips), but I'm determined to try. I like paying next-to-nothing way too much to start paying regular retail again.

A lot of times the deals I come across are national ones that I thought I might start passing along here if I see anything that could be really beneficial. So I wanted to share this deal with you at Staples:

You can buy a package of this paper at Staples for $1 each (on sale now for $6.99 a package). Why? Because Staples is running a $5.99 rebate for each package that you buy, and there are NO LIMITS to how many packages you can get. I've read where one lady bought the entire inventory that her local store had because the savings were so awesome.

Now as authors, paper is something we obviously use a lot of. You can't get much better than $1 a package on printer paper.

This post from Southern Savers is what alerted me to the deal, and I headed out yesterday and bought ten packages.

The way this works: you buy the paper, paying the $6.99 per package. Staples apparently accepts competitor's coupons (although your local store might have a manager who refuses to accept it, despite the fact that it is Staples' policy to do so - you might want to call ahead and check), so you can use a $10 off of $50 Office Depot coupon (like the one Southern Savers has a link to), saving yourself some money right off the bat.

Then you can sign up for a Staples Reward Card (if you don't have one already). This is a free program that gives you 10% every quarter on any ink or paper purchases. You may not shop at Staples regularly, but that's no reason to ignore free money!

When you buy the paper, the rebate information will print out automatically. Even if it doesn't, the Southern Savers post shows you how to get the rebate form online and proceed from there. Make sure you get the RIGHT kind of paper. I asked the store manager where the rebate paper was, and she walked me right over to the end cap where it was displayed. The SKU number is 554638, so you might want to take that with you to make sure you get the correct one.

Now, I know that rebates can be a scary prospect for some people. I've had my share in the past of not getting things refunded to me. But Staples has an online rebate program, and they advertise and brand themselves as the easy rebate store. So if you have a problem, all you'd have to do is contact them and I know you'd get it straightened out. (Plus, if you do it online, you'll still have the original receipt which will make it very easy to follow-up with them.)

I bought 10, which cost $74 (with tax). I am getting $7.40 back from the reward program, saved $10 with a coupon and will be getting a $60 rebate, meaning I will actually "make" $3 off of this transaction, along with ten packages of what is now free paper.

Everyone can use free paper, right?

If anyone wants to do this but is scared or needs someone to walk them through it, email me and I'll help you. This is just such a great deal for something that many of us use on a daily basis - you can't pass it up!

Friday, April 03, 2009

I'm a Critic -- Guest Blog by Jennie Hansen

It's one of "those" days, so I asked Jennie Hansen, author, critic and person extraordinaire to borrow a blog from V-Formation. (Of course she said yes.) Jennie is the author of Ruby, a 2009 Whitney-nomination in historical fiction and the recently-released High Country. Last year she received the Whitney Lifetime Achievement Award for blazing trails in the LDS fiction market as well as her incredible work as a reviewer of LDS fiction for Meridian Magazine. If anybody knows our market, it is Jennie Hansen. Here she tells what she looks for when reviewing the best and the brightest.

I'M A CRITIC -- by Jennie Hansen
I’m a critic. And I mean that in the nicest way. I’m not the sort of critic that enjoys pointing out faults and flaws. I’ve been accused of being hurtful, but that’s never my intent. What I aim for is improving LDS fiction. I believe in LDS fiction and want to see it get better and better. My way of doing that is by pointing out where improvements could be made---and applauding what authors get right. It is also my goal to inform readers about what is available in this fast growing field and encourage them to try new authors, let them know when an old favorite has a new release, and generally serve as a cheerleader for LDS fiction.

Most writers both want and dread having their books reviewed. I’m one of the lucky ones who get to do the reviewing. One of the questions frequently asked of me is what I look for in books I review. I also get asked by authors how they can get their books reviewed in Meridian. Others wonder what good is a review. I’ll try to answer those questions.

I’ll start with the last question. Review columns such as mine serve a dual purpose 1) to inform potential readers of new books that are available and help them decide which books to spend their money on and 2) to improve the quality of books offered to the public by informing writers of those areas that need work and which areas they got right.

Most of the books I review are sent to me by the various publishers, though occasionally I receive a book directly from an author, especially if it is self-published or published by a publisher who doesn’t ordinarily publish LDS fiction or handle their own distribution. I review only LDS fiction—that is fiction written by an LDS author and/or has LDS elements. I try to read everything I receive, but that isn’t always possible. And I’ll admit I don’t finish every book I start. I don’t have time to read poorly written books or books that espouse a point of view contrary to LDS Church values.

When I first began reviewing, I only reviewed books I liked. Even a bad review is publicity and I was squeamish about giving free advertising to books I couldn’t honestly recommend. Now, because my readers have requested it, I review the majority of the books I receive whether I like them or not. My reviews are shorter and sometimes less kind, but I can honestly say most of the books sent to me by LDS publishers have merit, though some are certainly better than others.

The first thing I look for in a book is whether or not it stands out from the crowd. I want books that catch my attention right from the start and hold it. A great cover is a good start, but I’m more interested in the actual words that start the story and whether or not the book starts where the real story starts. Excessive backfill and info dumps in those first couple of chapters ruin what might otherwise be a good story. I want valid research, plots that make sense, and characters that grow or change because of the events in the story.

I’ve heard it said there are only about sixteen basic story plots. Off hand I can’t name them, but I do appreciate a fresh approach to tried and true themes and it’s a delight when an author chooses a topic that hasn’t been done to death. Often I receive several books with the same basic storyline. They may all be good, but I’m going to review the one that has a different or new way of viewing the theme. Sometimes when faced with two comparable books, I’ll choose the one by the author who is new to the genre. I’ll admit there are a few authors who write so well I would like to review every book he/she writes, but if time or space is limited, I will most likely give the established writer a pass unless the work is unusual or outstanding for that author.

I look for good writing. I prefer books that have been thoroughly scanned by a good copyeditor, but there’s more involved than proper grammar and freedom from typos. A good writer doesn’t keep me guessing from whose point of view a scene is being viewed and he/she doesn’t arbitrarily switch points of view in the middle of a scene. Also too many points of view create cluttered writing. Childish sentence structure will lose me, as will pompous over-blown sentences and paragraphs. The same rules that govern excellent writing in the general market hold true for LDS novels. Also the premise or theme of the book must be weighty enough to carry throughout the entire book.

Since I review LDS fiction there must be a connection to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for books to qualify for my review column. That connection may be as slight as the author being a member of the Church and that the book follows standards that are commonly acceptable to members of the Church. The books do not have to be products of an LDS publisher, but most are. I don’t review books that present the Church in a negative light or ones that take a stand in opposition to Church policies or tenets. I prefer books that simply tell a story set in the context of the LDS culture, rather than those that preach or attempt to convert.

Character development is important to a story and I look for characters I can feel are real and I want to like the protagonist. I want to see characters that grow or are somehow changed by the events in the book. I like plots that have a beginning, a middle, and an end with twists and turns that hold my attention. The setting isn’t as important to me as character and plot, but it still plays an important role and it helps if the author gets details of the background right.

Every reviewer has a few personal idiosyncrasies and strong likes and dislikes. We’re human and we each set the criteria by which we judge a novel to be strong or weak by varying standards. I don’t like unrealistic behavior from supposedly mature adults, helpless females that have to be rescued by a man or a miracle, or going beyond an acceptable level of literary license when dealing with historical or scriptural characters. I’m very picky about speculative fiction and “near” history as well. I enjoy both well-written genre and literary fiction, though I’m not a fan of extremely esoteric literary works. And I’ll admit I’ve developed a real distaste for the weak, maudlin type of tears and tragedy story written primarily to evoke tears. I also find excessive violence and disregard for life as off-putting as pornography.

When I first began reviewing it was difficult for an LDS author to get his or her novel reviewed. The few reviews that appeared in papers or magazines were generally scornful of those early books. The magazine I work for, Meridian at and the AML group, were pioneers in this endeavor. Now there are many sources of reviews of LDS novels. Many online reviewers have sprung up and some of them are excellent. I believe all of these reviews are playing a role in making LDs fiction more satisfying to read. I’m always looking for reader feedback and would love to know what others like or dislike in LDS fiction. Also how do readers and writers regard the role of the critic?

Jennie blogs regularly -- and runs great contests! -- at Notes from Jennie's Desk. Here is her website.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A Good Cause

by Julie Coulter Bellon

The economic downturn has affected nearly everyone, but one place you might not expect to have been hit is our public libraries. In response to one community’s need, fifteen authors are uniting together to do a Book Festival Fundraiser tomorrow night.

Here are the details:

On April 3rd, 2009 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the Pleasant Grove Library (30 E. Center in Pleasant Grove), Provident Book and Humdinger Toys, Scholastic books, and fifteen authors are uniting together by appearing at a Book Festival and selling their books and other merchandise to help raise funds for the Pleasant Grove Library. There will be author readings, door prizes, music, and more! All the proceeds from the evening will go toward the library and its programs.

Some of the authors that will be appearing: Rachel Ann Nunes, J. Scott Savage, Julie Coulter Bellon, Tristi Pinkston, Julie Wright, GG Vandagriff, Suzanne V. Reese, H.B. Moore, Christy Hardman, Jewel Adams, Rebecca Shelley, Elodia Strain, Anne Bradshaw, Jaime Theler, and Stacy Gooch Anderson.

If any of you are in the area, I’d love to meet you or have you meet your favorite author and get your books signed. And please pass the word along for this worthy cause.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A Slight Change in Plans

Sorry about waiting until today to post. And I don't want to step on Stephanie's toes. By, the way, Stephanie, great post! One of my favorites is that one day in Sacrament meeting, I realized the story of the loaves and the fishes ended on Mark eight nine. Go figure.

Anyway, today is Stephanie’s day, and unlike Rob and I, she actually did post. But I have a pretty good excuse. Monday was a really weird day for me. In fact the whole week has been weird, not even counting the fact that the engine in our van blew up on the way to Idaho school visits. Monday morning, I was back home pushing hard to get Land Keep done by the week of April 20th when I get a call from my publisher.

It was Lisa Mangum. “Scott, how’s the story coming so far?”

“Great!” I told her. “This is definitely going to be the best book I’ve ever written. In fact, I’m actually a little nervous about how I’m going to top it in book three.”

Long pause. “Well . . . that’s good. But we’ve had a slight change in plans. Can you come down to the office to meet with Chris and me?”

Now, I love meeting with my publisher. They always have cool news, like, “Can you change the first chapter completely?” or “Remember how we had all those marketing dollars we were going to spend on your book in January?” So I must admit, I came with a little trepidation. I mean I’m over halfway on this baby and driving toward the finish. Maybe they have some cool artwork to show me. Except that they don’t know enough of the story yet to do artwork. Maybe it’s news about paperback rights or a movie sale? Hey, an author can dream right?

So I reach Salt Lake, find a parking spot and head in. My first clue that something is wrong is that Chris comes out of the elevator holding all four twilight books. Weird, but okay. Maybe he’s suddenly discovered Stephenie Meyer. Upstairs in the conference room though, are about a dozen romances—including Lisa’s forthcoming romantic fantasy, The Hourglass Door. Not sure what to make of this, but Chris gets right to the point.

“Scott, the committee thinks there isn’t enough kissing in your books.”

“What?” This may be the most bizarre thing I’ve heard since my daughter (now twenty) told me seventeen years ago that she had a pearl stuck up her nose. I’m sure I must have heard wrong. “Not enough what?”

“Kissing, smooching, passion,” Chris says pointing to the stack of Twilight books. “There’s not enough romance in your stories. Readers want touching, hugging, longing stares, and meaningful touches on the jaw.”

I’m not quite sure how to respond. “You do remember I write middle grade/YA fantasy right? My main characters are thirteen. They’re still not completely sure the opposite sex doesn’t have cooties.”

Lisa jumps in. “Oh, we’re not talking about Marcus and Kyja here. I mean their little kiss at the end of Water Keep was cute and all. But we’re thinking more about the elementals. What does a Land Elemental actually look like?”

Now I’m really confused. “Well technically there is no such thing as a land elemental.” Lisa and Chris give me an odd look. “You’ll get it once you read the story.”

“Well that doesn’t matter,” Chris says, pulling out some large pieces of poster board. “I’m sure you can change them. We had Brandon Dorman do a couple of sketches. These are just a few ideas of what the land elementals might look like. What do you think?”

I won’t go into detail about what land elementals look like. Or even why there is no such thing as a land elemental. That would give away too much of the story. Let me just say that the water elementals are the only elementals that look at all human. So imagine my surprise when Chris and Lisa show me a bunch of sketches of beautiful women. I start looking around for a camera or something. Finally, I shake my head. “You want the land elementals to look like Heidi Klum?”

“Not exactly like her,” Lisa says. “I mean they could have red hair, or even pink hair. And they don’t have to be super models exactly. See this one is wearing leaves. And this one has a rock necklace. They’re very land-like, don’t you think?”

When I am still confused, Chris takes over. “Here’s what we’re thinking. The economy’s slow right. So book sales are down. But women and teenage girls are still buying romance books like crazy. Look on Amazon. Twilight is like the top hundred products all by itself. Twilight hardback. Twilight paperback. Twilight audio book. Twilight picture book. Twilight pop-up. Twilight, the movie. Twilight soundtracks.”

“Right. I get it. Twilight is big.”

“Exactly,” Chris nods as though I’ve finally come to my senses. “That’s why we think you need to romanticize Far World. Think about it. What’s on the cover of Water Keep? A studly guy in a half open robe. You’ve already fought half the battle. Now you just need to put a hot-looking land elemental on the cover of book two and teenage girls will be buying up your series like mad.”

I run my fingers through my hair, still waiting for the punch line. “You are kidding right?”

“Not at all. We’ve already talked to our other authors about doing the same thing. James’ next book will introduce the 14th reality. A kind of intergalactic singles hangout. Brandon is going to have Kendra fall in love with a mummy who can’t kiss her without unraveling. And let’s just say the final book Obert Skye is going to introduce a Mrs. Thumps.”

Well as you can imagine, I argued quite a bit. But they are the publisher. And they made some good points, like, “We pay your royalties.”

So, beginning with book two, Farworld is now going to be a romantic fantasy. I’ve been practicing lines like. “Marcus gazed longingly into her eyes. Cascade’s palm lingered on the wood nymph’s cheek. Kyja sighed deeply, knowing her life would never be complete without a man who adored and stalked her.” It’s weird but, hey it’s a living.

Remember, book two comes out in September. Until then, enjoy April first.

I'm Surrounded By Crazy People

by Stephanie Black

At Family Home Evening, one of the first items on our agenda is "business," where we review upcoming events for the week so we know who is doing what and when. This week, the electronic calendar my husband read off his phone had been mysteriously altered to include such items as “buy chocolate,” “thresh wheat,” “face painting,” and “coup d’etat, North Korea.” It wasn’t hard to peg which child was the culprit.

I love having teenagers around. They do bring me to tears occasionally, but they're tears of laughter. You never know when a little humor will crop up here in Nutville. Even the Isaiah portion of 2 Nephi evoked giggles once. Our family scripture reading takes place at the extremely unpleasant hour of six in the morning, so you’re a lot more likely to hear mumbling than giggling. But 2 Nephi 13:6 struck my fifteen-year-old as funny—“When a man shall take hold of his brother of the house of his father, and shall say: Thou hast clothing, be thou our ruler, and let not this ruin come under thy hand”. We were laughing about it again later—as my seventeen-year old interpreted it, “You have clothes, you be king. I can’t be king. I’m naked! That would be so inappropriate on the posters.”)

I find my teenagers' Facebook status updates entertaining. Here are some recent ones, wherein one or the other of my daughters:

. . . came home, and the first thing her sister said was, "That guy called and said you could borrow his chainsaw."

. . . is related to a mythical Norse god named Odin. Seriously.

. . . thinks that taking her younger brother down is a lot like wrestling with spaghetti.

. . . left her harp in Sam Clam's Disco.

. . . is tiny and upside down .-.

. . . had an urge to use 'ferment' and 'foment' in the same sentence. So she did.

. . . has an entire album stuck in her head at once... apparently her subconscious is a DJ remixer.

. . . has this terrible little sinking feeling. Not as terrible of a sinking feeling as finding out your HazMat suit has a hole in it, but pretty close.

. . . is not a big fan of "cheez".

Needless to say, I’m going to miss my kids when they go to college.

In other news, when I went to post my blog this morning, I noticed that this is the 1000th post on the Frog Blog. Woohoo! Party at Rob's house!