Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Happy Birthday to Jeff Savage!

Today is Jeff's birthday - so please stop in and wish him a happy one!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Going in a Different Direction -- Guest Blog by Susan Corpany

by Susan Corpany

In television there is someone known as “the continuity guy.” It is his job to make sure the desk in the second scene still has all the same accessories it had in the previous scene. He makes sure that if the daughter took a blue backpack to school, she doesn’t come home with a green one. It would be great to have a “continuity guy” when writing a novel, wouldn’t it?

“Did you notice that Jason bought the movie tickets twice?”

“Three chapters ago, you said his eyes were blue. When did they become green?”

“You said it was a gas fireplace, but John just threw on a log.”

I wrote a great chapter recently, and I was so caught up in the witty dialogue that someone else had to point out to me that the couple ordered dinner and paid the check at the end but that their dinner never came.

Now that television shows come out on DVD, I have noticed that though they may have the guy making sure the lamp is in the same place in the living room, they allow themselves a lot more leeway than we are allowed as writers of books. For example, I recently watched a Cheers rerun in which the character of Frasier stated that his father was deceased. When the sitcom Frasier was developed as a spin-off, they apparently resurrected his father and he became a retired police officer. Interesting. I thought they only did that on soap operas.

I have CDs of all the seasons of Everybody Loves Raymond. Somewhere around season two or three, the family dog just kind of disappears. No explanation. No dog funeral. Was there was a salary dispute that ended badly? Did the writers forget there was a dog? I will never know.

I’ve been watching old episodes of The Bob Newhart Show. In one episode their neighbor convinces a woman to call off her marriage because he has fallen in love with her. Then by the next episode he is a free-wheeling bachelor once again. Why am I then not allowed to let a subplot dangle eternally? If they weren’t going to show an ongoing romance, at least for a few episodes, we should have perhaps seen an episode where he opened the door and caught the full fury of her wrath. “I gave up Jim for you???”

Remember how Family Ties started out with a huge emphasis on the former-hippie status of the parents? After a few seasons, the opening was retooled and they lost their love beads. The bell bottoms were put to rest. Their history changed or was forgotten.

When asked, the television folks always have a simple explanation. “We decided to go in a different direction.” Why aren’t writers allowed to use this excuse to explain the discrepancies in our writing? It would make life so much easier. No editing with a fine-tooth comb. No stressful rewrites. No need to read the manuscript a last eight-seven times before turning it over to the publisher.

And where is my continuity guy?

Susan Corpany is a full-time wife, mother, hostess for her Hawaiian guest home, and author. In her "spare" time, she is a frequent contributer to Meridian Magazine. Visit her website HERE. Look for a another hilarious (and touching) novel coming soon! (At least it will be if people like me quit asking her for favors and let her finish the edit!)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Manuscript Emergency Room

by Julie Coulter Bellon

As we’ve watched Rob’s medical drama unfold, it sort of reminded me of how, as authors, sometimes we know our manuscript is sick and we need help in diagnosing it, just like Rob. You see, when Rob was feeling chest pains during a football game, he waited for a while, to see if he would die, then went to the emergency room. So it is with some of our manuscripts. We know something is wrong with it when it’s painful to read it, so we wait a bit to see if any inspiration on how to fix it will come to us or if we should go with the feeling of scrapping the manuscript altogether. Sometimes the muse comes to help us out, but a lot of times it doesn’t, so we have to take it to the manuscript emergency room.

What is a manuscript emergency room, you ask? Well, any good writer should have access to one. A manuscript emergency room is full of people who can help you see what’s wrong with your manuscript and how to fix it. The first thing to do is sort of like the triage nurse at the ER, who takes some baseline tests like your temperature and blood pressure and such. In the writing world we can take some simple baseline tests like that, including giving the manuscript to some test readers to see if they have some insight for you. Or, take a break from writing for a while and get out your library card. Start reading some books to see if you can make a self-diagnosis with writing books, or read some books in your genre to see how other authors have done it. Another test that I highly recommend, is to let your mind rest so you can come back to your manuscript a few days or a month later and see it with fresh eyes.

If none of these tests really show you anything, then the ER nurse will take you back and get you a bed. This is the turning point, when you're deciding what to tell the doctor. You have a few hours to watch the clock tick for a really long time and count all the dots in the ceiling tile, and think of the symptoms, of what the tests showed, and what you hope the doctor will say. Of course, in the writing field, we call the doctor our critique group. When we finally have the floor and show our manuscript to our critique group, we give them the results of what we've tried so far and some hints on what we think is not working properly. They read it over and give it feedback. But we don’t want anyone like your best friend or mother who will not give you productive feedback to help your diagnosis, (and say things like, I loved it! There's nothing wrong at all, you're imagining things. You're the best writer ever!), we want people who are truly going to be honest so you can figure out what’s wrong.

If the doctor declares that he can't figure out what's wrong with your manuscript either, but you KNOW that something is still wrong, then you might need to see a specialist, or in the writing world, a professional editing service that can give you a content edit. This is a little more serious than the critique group, mostly because you pay for it and sometimes that can hurt. But a good editor will be able to see things and point out things that will make them worth their weight in gold. When I was having problems with Dangerous Connections and was really frustrated after my third rewrite, I consulted with a professional editor and through her suggestions was able to see where I was going wrong. The specialist really came through for me and was able to diagnose the problem right away. Always shop around for a good editor, however, and for what services you are really getting and if the company is reputable. I personally can recommend Eschler Editing and Precision Editing Group. These are both great companies with remarkable insight and reasonable prices.

If your manuscript is still sick after taking all those tests, seeing a doctor and a specialist, then, like Rob, I think you should just beg for a casserole and see if eating helps entice the muse to come back to you. But, in most cases, I know that the manuscript emergency room will diagnose your problem and you’ll be well on your way to a publishing contract. (Hope you feel better soon, Rob!)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Reading Time

by Stephanie Black

In my reading lately, I’ve been playing the Whitney Award finals guessing game, focusing on books that I predict will be Whitney finalists. The more books I can read before the finalists are announced, the fewer books I’ll need to read after the announcement.

Of course, I’m so behind that I seriously doubt I’ll have time to read every finalist between the time the finalists are announced on February 5th and the time academy ballots are due on April 3rd, but I’ll read as many as I can so I can vote in as many categories as possible. Naturally you have to read all five books in a category before you’re qualified to vote in that category. So with six categories times five books, that’s thirty books. I hereby predict that so far I have read . . . maybe seven of them, and am currently reading one. Yeah, I know—I could be totally wrong on my predictions and have read zero finalists, but I’m sure I’ve guessed at least some books correctly. So let’s say I guessed right five times out of eight. That leaves me twenty-five books to read in two months. Er . . . yikes.

It would be good to have read a lot more books throughout the year and be a lot more prepared, but I’m up against one difficulty: I'm a procrastinator who doesn't think that far in advance. Okay, I mean two difficulties: I'm a procrastinator and my library doesn’t carry LDS fiction. As an author, I know how much I appreciate it when people buy my books, and I wish I could afford to buy piles and piles of LDS novels and support lots and lots of authors, but that’s just not financially realistic (“Guess what, dear! I just spent $100 at Seagull again!”). I do buy books, of course, but not all the ones I’d like to read. Wouldn’t that be nice to have so much money that you could buy any book that looked interesting? To stroll through Seagull Book or browse the Deseret Book catalog and buy any book that caught your eye? Hang on a second; let me picture that. Ahhhh. Well, there would be the small problem of where to keep all those books, but that’s wrecking the fantasy, so I’ll imagine that my bookshelves are magically internally expandable like Mary Poppins’ carpetbag.

Anyway, back to reality—the good news is that I have a friend who is willing to lend me whatever LDS Whitney finalists she has on hand (and she’s a reviewer, so she has lots of books). And I can get most national titles from our local library, so I should be in good shape.

In other news, I’m already excited for the LDStorymakers Conference in April. It was SO much fun last year. This year I’m a boot camp sergeant—didn’t know I was that fierce, did you?—and I’m teaching a mystery/suspense class, so I hope I come up with something intelligent to say (alternatively, I hope I can fake it really well). The timing on the conference works out perfectly for me, since it’s the same week that BYU winter semester ends. I can drive the minivan to Utah, attend the conference, load up the car with my daughter’s stuff, and drive her home. The most daunting part of the journey is the twelve-hour drive out to Utah. That’s a lot of Nevada desert to be crossing by myself. I’d better get some excellent audio books to listen to. And some Jelly Bellies. And I’d better figure out how to work the GPS on my phone. Right now, when I want it set, I have my nine-year-old son do it for me. I'm techno-challenged; I also have trouble with the DVD player, the TV, and the Wii.

So who else is planning to attend the Storymakers Conference?

Chest Pain (Yes, I'm still complaining about it.)

by Robison Wells

Last month I blogged about my most recent medical problem, chest pain. (In the four years that this blog has been in operation, I think I've blogged about medical problems about eighty five times. It will continue until I get a casserole.)

The story was this: on the night of the BYU-Utah football game, I got some very sharp, very heavy pains right in the center of my chest. I ignored them for the customary number of hours (defined as: the amount of time in which I would have died if it was a real heart attack), and then I went to the ER.

The ER diagnosed it as pericarditis, which is an inflammation in the lining of the heart. They told me to wait a couple weeks, lay down a lot, take some drugs, and it will all be better. That was two months ago. Diagnosis: doctors are liars.

The medical treatment of this condition has proceeded slowly, due to the fact that I didn't have insurance during the month of December. So, even when I went to see the doctor he took things slow, doing all the cheap stuff first and then ramping up into the more expensive tests. If I had died early in the process, my tombstone would have read "GOOD THING WE STOPPED HEALTHCARE REFORM, GUYS!" But, I didn't die, so long live the Love Revolution and all that.

In the realm of cheap treatments, my doctor tried a predisone regimen, with the philosophy that it would address any inflammation issues, whether they were heart-related or musculo-skeletal. For those of you who are unaware, predisone is a steroid, and it sucks.

Wikipedia listed prednisone's side effects as: insomnia, euphoria, and mania. I'll be honest: I was excited. A drug that gives me euphoria? And it's legal? (My boss was excited about the mania part. "Maybe you'll actually get some work done, crappy employee" was not his direct quote.)

But as it turns out, the only side effects I really noticed were an intense pressure on my chest, and insatiable hunger. I would eat a big dinner, put my plate on the counter, and immediately begin to fantasize about Taco Bell. I am not kidding when I say that in the twelve days of prednisone treatment I did not feel full once--and I really tried.

And, worse still, the pain didn't go away. So, last Friday I went into the hospital for an echocardiogram (basically an ultrasound of the heart). When I got to the echo lab the doctor decided that I ought to have a stress test as well.

This doctor also had a poster prominently hanging on the wall by her desk that declared "Dare to do things worthy of imprisonment if you mean to be of consequence. -- Juvenal" Now, I'm a fan of Thoreau's Civil Disobedience, and I've attended protests, but should a poster like that hang on the wall of a doctor's office? Was she going to do things worthy of imprisonment while I was there?

Turns out the answer was yes, because a cardiac stress test is essentially torture. First, they shave your chest with something that looked like a serrated ice scraper, then scrub you with steel wool (I think) and then wash you down with alcohol. It's painful. And then, plastered with electrodes, you run on a treadmill until you collapse. (Very literally. I believe the point of the test is to make your heart problem become very bad while they're monitoring it.)

(Sidenote: I had to take this test on the same day I had the worst migraine I'd had in a year, and I'd spent all morning puking. So, hooray!)

Anyway, after falling back onto the echo table and writhing in nauseated, crippling agony, I heard the results. The cardiologist declared "I don't know what's wrong with you, but you are not in need of a cardiologist."

This is good news and bad news. The good news, of course, is that the ol' ticker is fine. After a lifetime of absolutely terribly eating, the tests showed that not only is my heart fine, but it's really really great. And, even better, my blood flow is great, and there's no sign of coronary disease (which, you know, is the big worry when you drink bacon fat with every meal, as I do). Obviously, when it comes to nutrition and heart problems, I AM INVINCIBLE.

The bad news, though, is that my chest still hurts.

So, we're going to have a blog contest. The first person to successfully and accurately diagnose and treat my chest pain wins a free thing of minimal value. Any diagnoses that are crazy will be automatically disqualified, and any treatments that have not been clinically tested in independent double-blind studies will be mocked publically. (Exception: I will accept phrenology diagnoses, but only if you can catch me to measure my head!)

You can follow me on Twitter! In fact, most of the jokes in this blog already appeared there. So, follow me there and you'll be aware of how often I rip myself off.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dancing in the Dark

First, thanks to all the people who answered the 10 “What if” questions I posed last week. And thanks to my high school friend James for pointing out the platinum version of What if. My birthday’s coming up and I’m adding to the list!

Second, the song about Writer’s Block is Dancing in the Dark, by Bruce Springsteen. Anyone who's ever suffered through writer's block should recognize this sentiment.

"I get up in the evening, and I ain't got nothing to say

I come home in the moring, I go to bed feeling the same way

I ain't nothing but tired, man I'm just tired and bored with myself "

I love Dancing in the dark as a metaphor for writer’s block. Because it gives such a great image of how a writer is working like crazy without really knowing if they are going in the right direction—or as my friend Julie pointed out, if they are about to hit their shins on the coffee table.

So here are my answers to the ten questions and reasons why.

1) Get a huge advance on your next book but have it be shredded by the book critics, or make almost no money on the book (even after the awards were announced), but receive top awards?

This is a kind of trick question. The goal of a writer is to publish more books. That’s my job, it’s how I get paid. If I don’t sell a lot of books, I don’t publish. But a big advance doesn’t guarantee a lot of sales. In fact getting a big advance and not selling well can kill your career. So I’d go for the awards. Yes, you didn’t sell a lot with that book. But an award winning writer will usually sell more books down the road—generating bigger advances in the future.

2) Write a book adored by millions of readers you don’t know, but despised by your friends and family, or write a book your friends and family love, but everyone else hates?

Another tricky one. Ultimately I am writing for my readers, not my family and friends. But I have many close family members and friends who read all my books before they come out and give me good feedback. So if my friends and family hate my book, there’s probably a good reason for it. But, hey, who can argue with millions of readers, right? I’ve always said, I rather be Stephenie Meyer than the other authors who complain about the Twilight series. Gotta go with the millions of readers.

3) Have your book made into a big budget film with lots of publicity and stars, that bombs, or not have your book made into a movie at all?

I’m going with the movie. Yes, it would stink to have your book be turned into a bomb. But think of all the people who would tell their friends, “Read the book. It’s much better.” Eragon was a flop in the theaters, but it didn’t hurt the book’s sales at all.

4) Only be able to write in a genre you don’t enjoy but sells like crazy, or write what you love but always sell poorly.

The good news is that I think I could enjoy writing any genre. If I had to write really sappy romances, but they were great sappy romances, I’d do it. The only caveat is it would have to be fiction. I would get really bored if I could only write non-fiction.

5) Get the agent of your dreams, knowing they are only lukewarm on your project, or a so-so agent who LOVES your manuscript?

Another trick question. I believe you need two things in an agent: Great connections and excitement about your work. I’ve known authors who had really nice agents, who love their work, but didn’t have the right connections to sell it. But would a great agent take on your work if they didn’t love it? Ultimately, I’d take the great agent. If they didn’t love this work, they must have liked my writing enough to take me on. So let’s figure out how to write something they will love.

6) Publish only one book, but have it be a classic, or publish dozens of mid-listers?

I’m a swing for a homerun guy. Since I’ve already published six books, I might think differently, but it would be great to write a book that people are still reading hundreds of years from now. Mid-list books disappear from the shelves too quickly.

7) Write books that are very slow reading, but extremely thought-provoking, or quick reads that make people laugh and cry?

Laugh and cry. I want emotion. I’ll leave the deep thinking to someone else.

8) Sign a contract that guarantees $75k a year for the next twenty years, or an all of nothing deal that has a 50/50 chance of paying out nothing or twenty million?

Again, I’ve got to go for the home run. I can make $75k a year selling software. And if I miss on this big chance. I’m betting there’s another big chance down the road.

9) Publish a book that in a genre that is all the rage right now, or one that breaks new ground?

New ground. I’m all about the “wow!” factor.

10) Publish amazing books that everyone loves, but never read another book, or read the best books for the rest of your life, but never publish a thing?

This would kill me. Writing and reading are two of my favorite things in the world. But I think it would kill me most to read great stories and know I couldn’t write my own. So if I had to choose I’d take writing. Then I’d figure out a way to tunnel into my local bookstore at midnight.

Next blog, I’ll talk about how to turn the light back on when you find yourself dancing in the dark. Which will also be the topic of my presentation at the Utah County chapter of the League of Utah Writers next month.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Utah Traditions

by Sariah S. Wilson

So we're on Week 2 (Week 2? Week 3? I can't remember anymore) of the toddler in a toddler bed. I haven't had more than four hours of sleep in a row since we started. Everyone here in my home area kept telling me it'd be over soon, not to worry, she'd adjust. She's not adjusting and I'm not sleeping. It's making me cranky. And non-verbal. Or, in essence, I've become a bit of a toddler myself.

I have a brother getting married on St. Patrick's Day. I'm pretty sure that's not the reason they chose it (although I would be all over that rainbow and leprechaun themed reception if it were me) - in the Salt Lake mission missionaries are allowed to go to their siblings' weddings if it is 1) in the SLC temple and 2) on their P-day. Hence, my other brother's Wednesday P-day gives us a St. Patty's wedding. I'm flying out with the baby and the toddler. By myself. Yes, thank you for your sympathy.

The bride's family asked that my parents provide a luncheon after the temple. This happened at my wedding unexpectedly - my in-laws surprised us and took us to that cool restaurant at the top of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, which made us late for our reception, which got us a lot of winking/knowing (but wrong) looks, which is a story for another day, but now that another sibling is getting married in Utah and the in-law luncheon has come up again, it had me wondering whether this is a tradition native to Utah.

Because a lot of American wedding cultural traditions don't apply to us. For example, there's no need for a rehearsal dinner as there's no wedding rehearsal. So I'm wondering whether an after-wedding meal is perhaps the equivalent of a rehearsal dinner.

It got me thinking about other traditions I've encountered in Utah that surprised me. Like when I learned of the partying that used to go on for baptisms and baby blessings. Growing up the baby was blessed and we just went about the rest of our day like normal. So when we blessed our first baby here in Ohio, our Utah relatives seemed perplexed that we were staying at church and that there was no sort of celebration afterwards. At some of the baby blessings I've attended in the past out in Utah, the baby gets blessed, we stay through Sacrament and then leave to have a party at someone's house (and then it was my turn to be confused - "Aren't we staying for church? Why not?") (I will also add that I think this particular tradition has changed, along with open houses and missionary farewells.)

And don't get me started on Pioneer's Day shock. I honestly wasn't aware that such a celebration existed until my first year of marriage. Because that was the first time I was in Utah in the summer. There was a parade with missionaries from the MTC standing on a Hill Cumorah float singing "Called to Serve" and it was an actual holiday with businesses closing down and everything. This was never celebrated in any of the wards I lived in, which include wards in Indiana, California, Tennessee and Ohio. (Before anyone asks, we were too poor to afford "The Friend" so I couldn't even learn about it there.)

Since I plan on moving to Utah someday to be close to both families, it got me wondering if there are other traditions there that I'm unaware of. I know different areas/regions have their own traditions and ways of doing things, and I'm not meaning to imply that every area of Utah does everything exactly the same, but I'm always curious about how people celebrate and recognize important ceremonies or holidays.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Cherry Chocolate Test of Crossfire

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I love chocolate covered cherries. There’s just something about biting into the chocolate to get to the creamy cherry core that makes my taste buds dance. So, there I was with my cherry chocolate, eagerly anticipating the pure heaven taste I was about to partake of as I brought the chocolate to my mouth. I took that first bite, the chocolate seeming to melt away as it always did, but then something happened. I looked down, because I couldn’t believe what I’d just experienced. There was no cherry. It was hollow. Talk about a bitter disappointment.

I tell you this little story because that is now the basis of my cherry chocolate test for books that I'm reading. And sadly, several books I've read lately have been just like a chocolate without the cherry---I was anticipating something really good, but then after I bit into it, realized it was hollow and not very appealing after all. So my test is to see if the book is chocolate cherry worthy and something worth waiting for, or if it's more hollow and unsatisfying like the chocolate without the cherry.

For example, I just finished one book where it was a complete chocolate cherry fail. The back of the book was promising, the plot seemed good at first, but as I got into the book, I couldn't believe what I was reading. The heroine was an absolute idiot. Seriously. She sat around the entire book, wringing her hands and waiting for someone else to save her. It completely annoyed me. I kept waiting for her to wake up and do something about her situation herself, but she never did. Thankfully, in the end, the hero asked her to marry him, so then she would always have him to save her. Yeah. I'm not kidding. It was not only like having a hollow chocolate covered cherry, but maybe biting into it and tasting something moldy as well, just for good measure. I honestly felt like I wanted to shake the author and say, really? REALLY? Gah. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

After reading that book, I had a bad taste in my mouth and I wanted to read a book that I knew would be well written and have a plot I could sink my teeth into. I was seriously debating going to buy Traci Hunter Abramson’s new one, Crossfire, right that minute, when lo and behold, my book angel sent me one in the mail that very day, asking if I would review it. Would I? Oh yeah. I could hardly wait to start reading it. I’ve long been a fan of Traci’s books, and knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. Traci’s books are like a really, really good box of chocolates—you can’t stop with just one.

In Crossfire, her plot starts out with a strong heroine, in a dangerous situation, who isn’t waiting for anyone to come and rescue her. I love that about her books, and after the one I’d just read, it was driven home to me even more. This heroine is using her own good sense and the training she’d had at the CIA to navigate a very difficult undercover mission. The tension is palpable, (and my minor criticism of the book is that we are told on many occasions, three times on pages 222-223 that the tension is thick, the tension is thickening, the tension is hanging. It is, but really, we don’t need to be told that. Our clutching of the book and how quickly we turn pages is the real evidence.) My other teeny criticism was near the beginning when our hero has a random flashback to his high school days and meeting our heroine. It totally took me out of the story and could have been told a few pages later after he’d heard her name again. It just seemed like a really odd place to put it. But, aside from those two small things, honestly, this was a very well put together and exciting book.

We are pulled in quickly through a twist of events when our heroine is given a new handler who used to be someone she loved. They are thrown into a maelstrom of events before they can say more than hello and why did you dump me. I loved how taut the plot was, how believeable the characters were, and that the setting was done so well I felt like I’d been there with the characters. There was a lot more technical jargon in this book than I’d been used to in her others, but it worked and gave it a very official feel. Traci weaves a lot of past characters into the story, so we get updates on their lives, which made me smile to see how things have turned out. It’s a bumpy ride in this book, for everyone, and I loved how the plot really made me think and kept me guessing. It was definitely as satisfying as biting into the most perfect chocolate covered cherry.

Here is the backliner of the book:

Special Agent Vanessa Lauton is living a lie. For the past year she’s been posing as a member of the Dominican Republic’s most powerful crime family in order to infiltrate a Caribbean terrorist organization. When her CIA contact has a heart attack, he’s replaced by U.S. Navy SEAL squad member Seth Johnson—the man Vanessa nearly married six years earlier. And suddenly the heat is on, in more ways than one.

Terrorist kingpin Akil Ramir sequesters Vanessa and Seth in his Nicaraguan fortress, where they learn of an impending attack on American soil. The Saint Squad is dispatched to calm the storm, but even their heroic efforts can’t stop multiple threats from escalating. Adrenaline rises as the squad confronts enemies who will stop at nothing to sabotage national security—and Vanessa finds herself caught in the crossfire.

Published by Covenant Communications 256 pages.

This one definitely passes my chocolate covered cherry test. Amazing book experience that mirrors an amazing candy experience. Satisfying, you know? But if you don't believe me, feel free to test it out for yourself. You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Seven Things I've Learned

by Stephanie Black

First, an announcement: Author Cami Checketts is doing a book giveaway on her blog, and today she is spotlighting Methods of Madness. If you’d like a chance to win a copy of my book, hop over to Cami’s blog.

And now, for my regularly scheduled Wednesday ramblings:

My upcoming release now has a final title. They decided to keep my working title, Cold As Ice. I’m pleased; I think it works very well for the book. There are a lot of, you know, cold things in there. Snow. Ice. Rocks. Hearts. I’m now fifty-fifty on their keeping my original titles or replacing them--they kept two and changed two (The Believer was my other original title). I’ve been happy with all my titles, and I’m grateful that they changed the ones they did, because their final titles were far better than my working titles. For instance, my working title for Fool Me Twice was Enter the Shadows. I know, I know. It was a lousy working title for that story—just a generic suspense-ish type thing. I COULD NOT come up with a good title for that book, no matter how much I tried. But I love the title Fool Me Twice. It’s perfect for the book. And Methods of Madness is a wonderfully creepy title.

I recently signed the contract for Cold As Ice (which is a contract addendum—you don’t have to go through the whole huge original contract that you signed for your first book and sign that all over again; it's still valid. They just add on the new book and any contract changes). Included on the addendum for my new book is the date of our original publishing agreement, which I signed in April 2004 when they accepted my first book. So. Hmm. What have I learned in the nearly six years since I signed my first publishing contract? Here are a few things:

*Publishing a book was the amazing fulfillment of a longtime goal, but it was far from being the end of the journey. It was a gate that opened onto a new path—a path that includes its own boulders and potholes, alongside the thrills and successes. There are no guarantees. Perseverance and flexibility are two keys to success in publishing.

*No matter how many books I’ve published, every time I submit a new manuscript, I’ll still worry. Will they like it? Will they accept it? And each time a new book is released, I’ll worry, wondering what readers will think and reviewers will say. With each new book, there’s more of a sense of having something to live up to. Will fans who liked my previous books like my new one? What if they utter those dreaded words, “Well, I really liked her other books, but her new one was disappointing . . . ”?

*The amount of time that a new book is front and center is really very brief. The big displays in the front of the stores, the ads in catalogs—it won't take long before that new release will be out of the spotlight and newer titles will take precedence. If I want to develop a readership and a career as an author, I need to keep the books coming. I’m still not a very fast writer, but I’m faster than I used to be.

*No matter how many people love my books and no matter how many good reviews I receive, sooner or later, someone is going to dislike what I’ve written and say so publicly. And it will sting. I guess I haven’t managed to overcome—and will probably never overcome—the wish that everyone who reads my books will love them, even though I know intellectually that tastes vary widely and one reader’s five-star wow is another reader’s two-star dud.

*One of the greatest blessings in a writer’s life is a good editor who is always willing to work with you until you’re both happy with the final manuscript. I’ve been blessed to work with two wonderful, talented, and patient editors. Thank you, Kirk and Angela!

*Authors love hearing from readers and really appreciate it when a reader sends a note saying how much he/she enjoyed the book. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to write to me. Those positive messages are such a thrill. Hey, someone loved my book! Hooray!

*And, as I've mentioned before, the LDS writing community is such an incredibly supportive group. I had no idea when I signed that first contract what a wonderful group of people I would come to know through my writing.

And now . . . time to get back to work on my manuscript (see #3 above about needing to keep the books coming . . . )

Monday, January 18, 2010

Would You Rather?

Every Christmas, my kids know what to buy me. Games. I love games. I have a closet full of them and yet I’m always looking for more. One of the new games this year is called, Would You Rather? The idea is that you try to guess which of two (usually bad or embarrassing, but sometimes good in an odd way) things the rest of the players would pick, if they had to. For example: Would you rather have bottles stuck on all the fingers of one hand for a month, or have your foot stuck in a bucket for a month? Would you rather have a head twice the normal size or half the normal size? Would you rather age only from the neck up or the neck down?

The best questions are the ones where the two choices are so close in good or bad effects that it’s really hard to decide. It’s funny how you can think one choice is a no brainer, while another person thinks exactly the opposite. It helps you see how the people around you think. Is having a great body more important than a great face? Would you rather be able to run a marathon when you are 100 or write a great book? Fun stuff, and sometimes thought-provoking.

So in honor of the writing awards announced this morning, I thought I’d try some writing “Would You Rather” questions today and see how you all think. Remember, this is not a, b, or neither. The question is, if you had to choose between one or the other, which would you pick. Here we go.

Would you rather:
1) Get a huge advance on your next book but have it be shredded by the book critics, or make almost no money on the book (even after the awards were announced), but receive top awards?

2) Write a book adored by millions of readers you don’t know, but despised by your friends and family, or write a book your friends and family love, but everyone else hates?

3) Have your book made into a big budget film with lots of publicity and stars, that bombs, or not have your book made into a movie at all?

4) Only be able to write in a genre you don’t enjoy but sells like crazy, or write what you love but always sell poorly.

5) Get the agent of your dreams, knowing they are only lukewarm on your project, or a so-so agent who LOVES your manuscript?

6) Publish only one book, but have it be a classic, or publish dozens of mid-listers?

7) Write books that are very slow reading, but extremely thought-provoking, or quick reads that make people laugh and cry?

8) Sign a contract that guarantees $75k a year for the next twenty years, or an all of nothing deal that has a 50/50 chance of paying out nothing or twenty million?

9) Publish a book that in a genre that is all the rage right now, or one that breaks new ground?

10) Publish amazing books that everyone loves, but never read another book, or read the best books for the rest of your life, but never publish a thing?

What do you pick and why? I’ll tell you my picks after I’ve heard from you.

And just for fun, and because I didn’t realize it until recently, can any of you name the famous rock song that is about writer’s block?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Random Stuff

by Sariah S. Wilson

Here's some things that have been running through my mind lately and the blog seems like a great place to unload:

* Helping people in Haiti. I'm assuming the church will offer the ability to donate money to help people there. I did donate today to the Bush/Clinton organization (and if you'd told me a few years ago I'd ever donate to something with Clinton's name on it...) because they promise 100% of the funds will be passed along. I like the idea of all of the money going to help those that need it without a lot being spent for administrative costs. Do you have suggestions for organizations that will help do the most good there?

* Authors need to think sometimes. I started a book not too long ago that had the most perfect opening chapter of any book in that genre that I've ever read. It made me put the book down because I didn't want to keep reading. 1) Because I didn't want it to end and 2) I was pretty sure the author would find a way to foul things up. I was right. It was set in early 19th century England (Jane Austen type stuff) and back then, honor and being a gentleman mattered an exceedingly great deal to men. The hero in this book was practically perfect until one random summer day when he, um, wasn't. Toward the heroine, I mean. And any man in the hero's position in that time period would have immediately offered marriage. He didn't. It made me not like him and though the plot continued to be perfect and the characters were so interesting, it ruined the entire book for me. I didn't believe he would act that way and I didn't believe the heroine's modern attitude toward the entire thing (she just wanted to see what all the fuss was about). I understand the need authors sometimes have for doing a good costume drama instead of a historical, but you can't get so far out of the realm of possibility that it makes the reader stumble. (This can also work the opposite way - there are people who know your time period so well they'll call you out on some overlooked smaller details.)

* How best to transition a toddler into a toddler bed? We've had our 10-month-old in a portable crib and he's outgrown it both in weight and length and I've always figured it can't be too comfortable sleeping on what is essentially cardboard with foam on top of it. So we finally took the plunge and are in the midst of reorganizing all of the bedrooms and sleeping situations. The baby is now in the crib the toddler used to sleep in, sharing a room with his 7-year-old brother. The toddler has her room to herself again, and our oldest has his own room. We've been unbelievably lucky when it has come to transitioning our children in the past - they just started sleeping in their beds. We would put them there, they would stay and go to sleep. None of them ever even tried to climb out of their cribs. So you can imagine the 2 1/2-year-old's great delight at discovering she can get out of her new princess bed, open the door and stand at the top of the stairs to cry for us. We're doing the whole just put her back in her bed and leave thing, but it's not going so well. Last night she was up from 11:30 p.m. to 3:45 a.m. (the last time I returned her to her bed) and came in at 7:00 a.m. to be up for the day. I didn't allow her any naps today (no driving anywhere that she could fall asleep in the car) and she wanted to go to bed at 7:00. I sat with her for five minutes, she fell asleep and has been up there for the last three hours. Does anyone have any advice or tricks on helping a toddler to stay in her bed and sleep? Keep in mind that our bedrooms all open up to a central landing (no hallways) so if she is in her doorway or at the top of the stairs crying/screaming, this wakes everyone up (as we discovered when we put a gate on her door).

* "Avatar" was awesome. More swearing than I would have wanted, fairly predictable in most spots (although it did have one or two surprises for me), but that was, by far, the most amazing visual movie that I have ever seen. Typically when I see something with CGI it registers that it is CGI and while it may be pretty/neat/cool, I'm always aware that it's fake. This movie made me forget. I believed it. I believed the setting and the characters and it never felt false to me. I'm also pretty impressed with any storyteller that can make me root against my own species. If you haven't seen it yet, I would recommend it.

* My Christmas decorations are still up. I took the tree down right away (probably in record time for me), but I still have all the stockings and garlands and other room decorations up. I think the longest I've ever gone is the end of January. Are you someone who cleans those things up right away, or does it take you awhile to get it all put back?

Friday, January 15, 2010

"Last Word" Winner!

by Kerry Blair

Thanks to everyone who played my "Famous Last Words" game last week! Every entry was fun! I almost gave the grand prize to Jon. Despite claiming not to understand how the contest was being run, two of the three famous last lines he contributed were also listed in the book from which the idea had come. (Somehow or other, Ophelia's author missed that renown "Mummy" book Jon cited.) For this almost-eerie accomplishment, Jon has been awarded the consolation prize -- which consists of sincere consolation from us all.
The winner is Mel, whose comment included:

--Stephanie Meyer has been poked.
--Lord Byron took the "Which Rock Star are You" quiz.
--J.D. Salinger has sent NO ONE a friend request.
--George Orwell took the "Which barnyard animal are you" quiz.
--James Joyce is beside the rivering waters of, hitherandthithering waters of. Night!

At least a couple of those are also in the book, but I don't care. Mel didn't win for originality so much as for a very solid -- and hilarious -- knowledge of those writers. Especially Joyce. I love that one!

Finally, Annette Lyon receives an honorable mention for both "Nevermore!" and claiming a genetic link to Mel. Clearly, wit and class run in that family.

Thanks again! You guys are the best!

PS ~ I planned on a guest blog for today and I know the guest has been hard a work on it, though I have not yet received it. Do check back!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Being Beast

by Julie Coulter Bellon

So, the basketball season has started and with five of my seven children participating, I watch a lot of basketball games. Each Saturday we start early, and pretty much run from one game to another. This Saturday I have six basketball games scheduled to watch (one of which I’m coaching. I’m also supposed to play in one) and then that evening we’re going to watch the Jazz game. Yeah. That’s a lot of basketball.

But I’m not going to whine or complain about coaches or refs. Today, I’d like to talk about women’s basketball. Women’s basketball in my stake has started and this means that basketball practice has started. In the past, playing in the games hasn’t been so bad because only kids ever come to watch (if anyone) so I don’t have to worry about embarrassing myself. But last night, there I was, in my exercise clothes, debating on whether or not I should go to basketball practice, because I knew that the young men would be there doing their practice (and could see me practicing) and I know that since I’ve had baby number seven, my body and my skills aren’t what they used to be. So I didn’t know if I wanted to practice in public (the public being twelve to sixteen year old boys and their young men leaders. People that I have to see every Sunday). What if I embarrassed myself? I put my shoes on, and went over to the church, and sighed with relief that no other women had shown up. I told myself I’d go home and walk on my treadmill or something, since I was already in my exercise clothes, but, just to be fair, I’d give it five more minutes. Of course, three other women showed up in those five minutes and one of them played college ball and is really good. I groaned inwardly, and smiled outwardly as we started. We shot some shots for a while and I was totally intimidated by the college ball girl because she sank almost every shot. Then she suggested we play speed. I dutifully lined up, and shockingly held my own. It came down to just the two of us several times and she won, but still! I was the other girl left standing. So, that built up my confidence a little bit, until she suggested we play a little two on two.

You know, I wasn’t half bad. Even when the other team clawed me (I have the wounds this morning to prove it!) I still was able to keep up, guard my player, and make a few shots. And as I was driving home, some young men shouted out, “Hey, great job, Bellon. You were beast on the court tonight.” (Apparently, beast is a good thing. Being beast is like being really awesome or cool. Or so I’ve heard.) And after that, I decided that going to basketball practice might not be so bad.

I think this is a lot like writing. Sometimes, we sit there with our story, wondering if it’s good enough to submit. We know we have what it takes, but if we submit it, other people might see. And what if they laughed? Or rejected it? What if you get as far as sending it, only to find you didn’t put enough postage on or the email address was wrong so it comes back to you. Is that an omen? Should you wait around five more minutes and then try again? Or forget it? And, what if you’re friends with a published author who is so good, and she’s recently submitted something to the same publisher, and you feel like there isn’t any way you could ever be as good as her, so why bother trying?

We should bother trying, because I think we surprise ourselves. I haven’t met anyone harder on themselves than writers. And like my basketball practice, even though I was worried about my appearance and how I would stack up to the other players, in the end, I held my own. I surprised myself.

Of course, I did get clawed, and sometimes, in the publishing business, you will get comments, criticism, or feedback that can hurt, but you chalk it up to a war wound, and move on, because that’s what happens when you’re in the game. If you were still sitting on the sidelines, wondering if you should even be there, you wouldn’t even get on the court, you wouldn’t improve and never go anywhere else but the sidelines. If you’re a benchwarmer, sitting on a great idea or a manuscript, get in the game! Get ready to get better. And then go for it. You will surprise yourself at how good you really are.

And maybe, just maybe, those people who you were so sure would laugh or reject you, will tell you that your manuscript is beast and they would love to represent it or publish it. And once you’ve been told how beast you are, you know that this is the place for you. You can do it. You belong. So get to it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Creating Stories and How I Got Interested in This Crazy Business

by Stephanie Black

Tonight, I’ll be a teaching a class of young women about storytelling and how I create a story. Since I need to come up with something to say, I figure I’ll blog on that topic. Many of the things I’ll be talking about will be things I’ve discussed on the blog before—sorry about that, but if your memory is as bad as mine, you can enjoy them just like they were new! Otherwise you can skim, skip, and send irritable notes to Sariah, Jeff, and Rob asking where they heck were they on Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday and will someone please post something new, because Stephanie is just babbling on, repeating herself.

Anyway, I figure I’ll start by telling the young women about how I became interested in writing. Such as:

*I’ve always loved reading. My mother reports that I loved books from the time I was old enough to turn the pages, and even when I was very young, I would sit looking at books (proof that I did occasionally take a break from my favorite position—hanging on her leg, crying).

*Since I was a young child, I’ve enjoyed creating stories. My favorite game was Barbies, and my sisters and I would spend hours making up Barbie games filled with danger and intrigue. To me, writing is a grown-up way of playing Barbies—creating stories about make-believe people, and identifying with those people—living in their world for the duration of the game/novel. My sisters and I also enjoyed playing pretend games outside, as we ran around fighting evil or having adventures as Charlie’s Angels, or the Bionic Woman, or Electro-Woman and Dynagirl, or Isis (anybody remember those shows?). We also wrote a couple of plays for ourselves and younger siblings (and that kid who lived next door who was supposed to be The Sultan in our play, but got in a snit about something and walked out. Actors!).

*When I was twelve years old, my seventh grade English teacher assigned us to write stories for the PTA Reflections contest. The theme that year was What Makes Me Smile. I didn’t care much about the assignment or feel particularly excited about my story—a thrilling tale about, um, practicing the violin. I seem to recall finishing it at lunchtime on the day it was due. But my teacher liked it, and it ended up winning an award at the state level, which was pretty dang exciting and helped pique my interest in writing. Ironically, the next year, I wrote a story I liked better and it didn’t do nearly as well. The writing business is like that sometimes.

*When I was a senior in high school, I took a creative writing class, for which I wrote very boring stories. I could execute the mechanics of writing with sufficient skill—grammar, spelling, punctuation, vocabulary. What I hadn’t figured out is that in a good story, a character needs to want something and something needs to stand in his/her way. The heart of fiction is . . . (and I’ll make the young women guess this word tonight—hey, maybe I could do hangman!) . . . CONFLICT. In your own life, you want things to be as smooth as possible. In a story, you want exactly the opposite for your characters. If no one or nothing opposes the protagonist, you’ve got a really boring story. On the last story I wrote for that creative writing class, I finally came up with an interesting idea—the characters were actually facing terrible trouble—woohoo!—and my teacher, probably relieved that the story wasn’t as dull as my other stories, penned, “Interesting—don’t stop” on my paper. I didn’t. I played with that story for years, thinking I’d like to write a novel. Eventually, I got serious about writing a whole novel, start-to-finish, as opposed to just playing with scenes. I studied fiction technique. I wrote and wrote and rewrote. Years later, the tree that grew from that first seed was my first novel, The Believer.

Thoughts on storytelling:

*Everyone creates differently. What works for one writer doesn’t work for another. There’s no one “right” way to create a story. I can talk about how I do it, but eventually you’ll find your own way.

*My first book came from ideas that I’d been working on for years; my second also had its roots in ideas that had been percolating for a long time. But what if you want (or have been assigned by your English teacher) to write a story and you don’t have a clue what to write about? When I sit down to write a new novel, the first thing I do is start brainstorming (I’ll make them guess the word “brainstorming” too. That’s a good long word for hangman). It takes me tons of brainstorming to come up with a new plot. For my current work-in-progress, I have about 48 pages of draft—and 48 pages of brainstorming. In brainstorming, never tell yourself that an idea is stupid. Just jot it down. It doesn’t matter how cheesy it is or how outlandish or even how cliché. Write it down, write down more ideas, play with them, twist them, turn them around, combine them—until in that mess of words, the seed of a story starts to sprout.

*For the last two books I wrote, plus my current W-I-P, I started out only knowing that I wanted to write a suspense novel with a young-ish female protagonist. I had no idea what the story would be. I jotted down idea after idea, searching for a plot. You can start with the question, “What does my character want?” My favorite writing guru, Jack Bickham, calls this a story goal. Your character needs to want something and be willing to fight for it. I’ll ask the young women for some examples from characters they’re familiar with—for instance, what does Harry Potter want? What does Frodo want? What does Luke Skywalker want?

Now—who or what is working to keep your character from achieving his/her goal? Where is the conflict?

We’ll play with that idea in class; I’ll have the girls create a character, come up with a story goal for her, and come up with an antagonist trying to stop her. It will be fun to see what they create.

*Outlining. Some writers write meticulous outlines. Mine are very broad. I need to know where the story is going, but I won’t know all the twists and turns until I write them. During that first draft, I’m constantly returning to my brainstorming file to work my way through problems and figure out new scenes. As a writer, you’ll figure out what works for you. Again, there’s no one “right” way to do it. If meticulous outlines work for you, that's great. If they don't, find what does work.

*”Give yourself permission to write a [lousy] first draft.” I got this advice from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and it’s really stayed with me. I used to polish a lot as I went along and feel it needed to be good, and it took me FOREVER to write a book. Plus, I’d spend countless hours polishing a scene, only to dump the whole thing later. Now, I feel free to write lousy first drafts. I’m free to fumble around and make mistakes and be unpolished or clumsy, and have some of my characters made of cardboard—my goal is to get the novel written. Once it’s written, I have something to work with, and a much better idea of what the story needs and who the characters are, and I can go over it again and again until it’s polished and publishable. This system would drive some people crazy, but it works for me. So my advice is: if you’re trying to write a story and you’re frozen, staring at the screen, unsure what to write, afraid your idea is garbage and your sentences aren’t coming out right---tell yourself that’s okay. It’s a first draft. It’s doesn’t have to be brilliant. Get that story written—and then you can make it brilliant.

Anyway, wow, this blog is really long. Congrats to anyone who reached The End! And wish me luck tonight. I'm hoping the refreshments involve chocolate.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Famous Last Words

Here's the thing. I simply cannot justify blogging when I have not yet found the time to sit at a computer long enough to:

A) acknowledge the dozens of marvelous (and deeply, deeply appreciated) Christmas felicitations I received.
B) finish the edit I owe a certain guy who truly possesses both the patience and wisdom of Job.
C) Send so much as a three-word e-mail response to my best friend.

But here's the other thing(s).

A) Julie has never missed a Thursday at her appointed round.
B) Sariah blogs faithfully despite everything. (Speaking of Job . . .)
C) Jeff writes incredible, inspiring essays in his "free time."
D) Stephanie managed, while sitting at a keyboard, to be funny rather than creepy. (Loved the post!)
E) Even Rob blogged this week. (Possibly one of the signs of the apocalypse.)

What's a buried-up-to-the-eyebrows (read: died-in-the-wool slacker) to do?

How about a contest?

In the spare minutes I find each day (you know where), I've been reading Sarah Schmelling's brilliant: Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don't Float: Classic Lit Signs on to Facebook. (I'd put the title in a link for you if I had time to look it up. As it is, might I suggest Google?) Even her front and back covers are funny. They feature Hester Prynne (The Scarlett Letter) Ernest Hemingway, Jane Eyre, and Edgar Allan Poe, among others. The accompanying boxes read:

A) Hester received a piece of flair.
B) EAP will not stop looking at you that way.
C) Ernest took the ARE YOU A REAL MAN quiz.
D) Jane listens to "Hard Knock Life" -- on repeat.

I love it!

The last chapter is a "news feed" that features the last words from classic novels. Three of my favorites:

A) Charles Dickens has done a far, far better thing that he does, than he has ever done; it is a far, far better rest that he goes to than he has ever known.
B) Margaret Mitchell will think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.
C) Jane Austen was ever senisble of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them.

Get it? One more example, then. The news feed from Farworld: Water Keep would be:

A) J. Scott Savage knows for that one brief instant the voice he thought he'd heard belonged to Master Therapass.

Now do you get it? You take a favorite author and pair him/her with the last line (or two) of one of their works. It's not only fun, it's rather addictive. I think I'll play myself.

Now that we've established that I still know my ABCs (through E, at least) it's your turn. Post the best "news feed" you can come up with. Winner gets an acknowledgement on Facebook (and most of you know I almost never post on Facebook, so this is big) and a $10 gift certificate to Amazon.

The chickens are stirring. The geese are revolting. (In more ways than one.) The cats are demanding food or else they're going to show the goldfish how that Circle of Life thing works. The dog is waiting patiently, but rolling her eyes. My mother is wondering why I'm not filling her oxygen tank. (In my defense, she's on a concentrator at the moment, not gasping for breath.) The visiting "kids" are wandering, zombie-like, toward the kitchen. I think it's time to get back on the roller coaster. My apologies to the legions of you to whom I owe an e-mail or six. Try to remember that while erring is so me, forgiving is divine!

Please play my game! I can't wait to see what everybody comes up with!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Cover Out of Darkness

by Julie Coulter Bellon

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the cover for my new book, Dangerous Connections, that I’d had described to me over the phone. I was nervous about it because it is a spy novel, set in Paris, and I was told that the cover design team had chosen bubbles. I imagined Lawrence Welk-like bubbles, or bubbly bath bubbles with a token poison sign watermarked into it. The picture in my head just didn’t seem to go with my story at all. (And Rob's idea for my cover that he posted yesterday was about what I was thinking, except funnier, and I hadn't imagined the creepy guy on the front. Who is that guy, anyway? *shudder*)

But I have good news! I saw the cover and I am happy to throw myself at the feet of the cover design team and thank them. I should have trusted them. I shouldn't have imagined the worst because I got something amazing. I really like it. I think they did a great job with colors and the theme. So, on that note, here is the cover for my newest release, due out in March.

TA-DA! What do you think? I posted it on my website and here are some of the comments I’ve gotten so far:

That looks like an evil concoction brewing.

Those bubbles look menacing.

Awesome cover!

It looks very bubbly.

Love it, can’t wait to read it.

I would totally pick that up in the store.

Why do you have handcuffs on it?

Is that a mutated swastika on it? Does a drunken Nazi appear in your novel?

It looks too similar to Gregg Luke’s book cover Altered State.

It looks intriguing and weird. More weird, I think.

Fascinating. Can’t wait to read it.

Why do you have a Chinese Ninja throwing star on your cover? Is it set in China?

I love those colors. Great job on the cover!

So as you can see, it’s garnered a lot of interesting comments already! The biohazard sign on the front seems to have confused some people into thinking it is something else. But maybe that heightens the mystery and will make them want to pick it up. Or maybe they’ll think it’s Gregg Luke’s book and pick it up, read the backliner, and still want to read it. I hope so. Anyways, I am really excited for March to come so you can read the story that goes along with the cover. And if anyone from the design team reads this blog, thank you, thank you, thank you. You did a great job.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Out in the Cold

by Stephanie Black

We weren’t planning to travel over Christmas break. Our plans were basically to hang out, eat a lot, and maybe hang out some more. Okay, our plans weren’t actually that well formed. Our only real plan was to go up to San Francisco; we wanted to go to the Academy of Sciences. It would have been a miracle if we had made it to the Academy, because, you see, we have a current membership. We buy a lot of memberships when we visit museums or aquariums, because by the time we pay to get our whole clan inside, we might as well pay a few extra bucks and buy the membership, and then we can come back for a whole year! For free! What a bargain! But sadly, our policy is to never actually get around to returning within the year of the membership. We must wait until it expires, thus ensuring that we wasted the extra money we spent. This is why Mensa has never come knocking on our door.

Our Christmas vacation plans changed when, two days before Christmas, my husband’s grandmother had passed away. I’m sure she was very happy about this—she was to the point that she couldn’t even get out of bed and didn’t know what was happening around her, so what a joy it must have been for her to be free of that ancient body and reunited with her husband. We decided to take the whole family to the funeral in Salt Lake. So on the day after Christmas, we loaded up the minivan with leftover chocolate and all the gloves I found in the coat closet that looked like they might still fit someone and set out to cross the Sierras. The weather was clear, which is a good thing. Snow in the mountains=bad travel. Just ask the Donner party.

It was interesting watching the temperature reading drop lower and lower and lower as we drove through the Nevada desert. It’s not that we’ve never experienced cold weather. I used to live in Salt Lake, we spent several years in New England, and my husband is from Rochester, NY, where spring comes sometime in August (I’m kidding—it really comes in May). But we’ve been in California for over five years now, which means anything below fifty degrees is cold, anything below forty is really cold, and anything below thirty is when you write to the Governator and demand a refund on your weather tax.

While we were in Provo/Salt Lake, the temperature was mainly in the twenties and colder. At first, my youngest daughter—who has never in her life experienced real cold—didn’t believe that she needed a coat over her short-sleeved Sunday dress. “I’ll wrap my blankie around me,” she said. When I warned her to be careful on the slippery church parking lot, I added that she had never experienced ice. She responded that she had too—she’d had it in her drinks. My nine-year-old liked stomping on the crusty snow—“used snow,” he called it. He would have liked a new snowfall.

On Sunday evening, we decided, in a spasm of brilliance, to go see the lights on Temple Square. Only two of the seven of us had gloves, the female members of the party were in skirts, and my sixteen-year-old had bare legs. Teenagers here don’t wear pantyhose, you see, and it didn’t even occur to me to get her some pantyhose for the trip. So there she was in twenty-two-degree weather with bare legs and slip-on shoes. Needless to say, we didn’t spend a lot of time meandering about, admiring the lights. But we did acclimatize very quickly, and soon became hardy winter folk, ready to handle the coldest Mother Nature had to offer. Ha ha! As if! Do we look like Bear “Man vs. Wild” Grylls to you? On the evening after the funeral, we headed south and spent the rest of the break in St. George where they have sweater-and-sweatshirt winters similar to those in our natural habitat. But wimpiness wasn't the real reason we headed for Utah's Dixie. We went to party with my family. Festivities included geocaching in the desert, Muppet Treasure Island, twenty-something homemade pizzas, and a little fudging on the time when the younger cousins rang in the New Year. 10:30 is close enough, right?

Happy 2010 to all our blog readers!

I Bet You Thought That I Wasn't Going To Post Today

by Robison Wells

Well, the joke's on you, because I'm posting. And, I'm even beginning to write this blog at 11:58pm. So, even though I won't actually post it on Tuesday, I will have written the very first part of it on Tuesday. Considering my recent track record, that's pretty good.

Speaking of my recent track record, did you notice how we all took two weeks off for Christmas? Well, the truth is that Sariah asked if we were going to take the holidays off and the rest of us bloggers said "Well, yes, of course." And then Rob said "I never blog, so why don't I post this week in place of all you?" And then I didn't post anything anyway. So, even on the week when no one is supposed to do anything, I was still a failure.

I don't have anything important to say. Usually, this means that I'll talk about movies that I've recently watched, but nothing is coming to mind. So, instead, I thought I'd update you on the recent goings-on in the Six LDS Writers world. We'll go by day of the week:

Jeff, as you may have heard, has an agent and writes lots and lots of books. He also is scheduled to have the first mainstream LDS horror novel, and he's starting a contest to determine the title. Your options are: The Work and The Gory, Children of the Promise/Corn, Tennis Shoes Among the Morlocks, Pearls and Poltergeists, Charley (and the sequel, Bride of Charley). The winner of the contest gets Jeff's house.

As for me, you may recall that I'm suffering from a heart infection. Well, I finally went to the doctor today. (I've been putting it off because unemployment + poverty + no insurance = It's A Good Thing We Don't Have Healthcare Reform.) (That comment was for you, David.) Well, I finally bit the bullet and went to the doctor, and was pleased to find that, in exchange for my uninsured enormous medical bill, the doctor gave me a diagnosis of: "I dunno." But, he also gave me some painkillers, so... WHEEEEE!!!!

Stephanie, as you may recall, has a daughter at BYU. So, you might think that Stephanie's update is her daughter is now married, pregnant, majoring in elementary education, and working at the Hogi Yogi. However, if you'd have met her daughter you'd know that she actually spent the Christmas break working undercover for the G-Men, posing as a gangster's doll (or jazz baby), pretending to be soaked with the bar rag and/or stewed to the hat in order to brace a one-way kid's cabbage for the elephant ears before Jasper and his gunsels go to the mattresses with their pineapples. (If you know what I mean.) (I mean she's a narc.)

Julie, as you may have heard, recently got the news that her latest book finally has a cover, but she was worried to hear that it had bubbles on it. However, when the cover was eventually delivered, she discovered that there was nothing to worry about:

Kerry, you may recall, has been doing very respectable things in respectable ways, warming hearts and cheering souls. She continues to do so.

And finally, Sariah. I think I've finally figured Sariah out: she likes to make up health problems so that people feel sorry for her. If it's not a Hirohito Thyroid it's a slipped disc or a heart murmur or a vomiting child. Honestly, don't you just get so sick of people who yammer on about their health problems. Sheesh, Sariah, take a Tylenol.

So, it's time to go to bed--it's hard to sleep with the maddening, gnawing chest pain, but at least it's better than my daily migraines or my ongoing struggles with pneumonia. You people have no idea what I go through. Send me a casserole.

You can follow Rob on Twitter. You really can. I believe in you.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Gift of Writing

Today I was sitting and thinking about all the projects I have to work on, current finances, and various other issues. Not exactly feeling overwhelmed, but definitely not upbeat. When something changed. Was it the sun breaking through the gray sky? The realization that I have an uninterrupted week to write next week? My hot wife smooching me on the back of the neck? Yes, yes, and yes. But it was more than that too.

I realized that I have a year to write whatever I want. Twelve months to use however I see fit. I might not write anything good. But on the other hand, I might write something amazing. Suddenly I had the feeling of, “Right here and now, anything is possible.” I have some great projects I am working on. Some great people on my side. And the time to complete what I want to do.

As I pondered a little more on time, I played with a calculation in my head. What is the minimum that anyone can write over the course of a year if they are determined and willing to stick with it? (Understanding that we all have prior commitments—jobs, kids, spouses, yards, pets. Lots of things to get in the way. ) But putting all that aside, how much could an average person write if they were willing to commit some time every day.

Now before I go on, let me point out that I am not great at making or keeping New Year’s resolutions. First, it just seems like a lot of work with little payoff. I ponder a goal. I set it. I immediately feel pressure to keep it. I break it. I feel guilty. And as you all know by now, I am not real big on guilt or feeling bad.

Instead of setting a “resolution.” I’d like to think of this as an opportunity. Like if someone gave you a $1,000 to spend on whatever you want. Pay bills. Go on a trip. Buy a ton of books. If someone gave you the money, you wouldn’t have to feel guilty about how, when, or why you spent it. I want to give you the gift of writing.

Here we go. First, you have to actually be ready to write when you sit down. That means knowing in advance what will happen in the chapter you are going to work on. Those of you who aren’t outliners, don’t turn red and start to swell up. You don’t need to know the whole book, just tomorrow’s chapter. So when you go to bed tonight, imagine the scene in your head. Got it? Okay good. Now, the next thing you need to know is how long it takes you to write one page, double spaced. I actually want you to try this and prove it to yourself. Come up with a scene and write one single page of it. Start the timer when you write your first word and stop when you hit a new page. Don’t rush, just write at your normal pace.

I just tried it. It took me twenty minutes. Some of you may be quicker. (I type with three or four fingers at most, and I usually reread as I write.) Some of you may be slower. For our purposes, it doesn’t matter. Let’s say it takes you twenty-five minutes. That’s doable. Most people can find twenty-five minutes right? In the morning before you get the kids up. When the baby is down for a nap. Come on, it’s less than one TV show. Now here’s the key. Can you find three segments like this a day? Three twenty five minute breaks? I think you can—at least on most days. If so, you are good to go.

Great! If you are still with me, you have determined that you can find three twenty to twenty-five minute segments a day to write. This will give you three pages. Again the key is that you sit down and write. Not plot, not edit, write. Which requires you to plot while you are making sitting on hold, typing reports, feeding the baby, doing laundry or falling asleep. Things that don’t require all of your brain power anyway. By plotting—at least the next page—before you write, you are ready to use the next twenty five minute break.

So what can you do with an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes of writing a day? Well do a word count on a page of double spaced writing. My check gives me anywhere from 250 to 350 hundred words per page. We’ll take the medium and call it 300. If you write six days a week, that’s 900x6, or 5400 words per week. Do that 50 weeks a year and you have 270,000. That’s right. If an average novel is 90,000 words, you can write three novels a year, putting in only an hour and a half a day. Oh you want to edit too? Or maybe take a little time off? Great. Write only five days a week and take an entire three months off for editing and vacations, and you still have 5 days x 39 weeks x 900 words, or 175, 500 words. So yeah, only two complete novels.

An average person with a modicum of commitment, but plenty of determination, can do it. YOU can do it. YOU can write a book. Again, this is a gift, not a resolution, not an obligation. If you don’t want to spend your time writing, please don’t feel guilty on my account. I guarantee, I won’t spend this much time on my garden, or working out, or volunteering, or any other number of great and wonderful things. It’s your time, spend it however you want. But if you’ve always wanted to write a book, hopefully this will help you realize you can. Even if you can only find one twenty-five minute segment a day, you can still write a 90,000 word book if you do it six days a week for fifty-two weeks.

It’s a great year. It’s your year to do what you want. I hope it is wonderful for you, and if you decide to write I hope it beings you all the joy writing has brought me.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

So 2010 Begins...

by Sariah S. Wilson

And with the ushering in of a new year and a new decade, there must, as always, be new resolutions.

I didn't get any real writing done this year. Having kids close in age is HARD. You'd think I'd know this, being the oldest of nine myself (and most of us two years apart in age, which, on a side note, makes it real easy to remember how old everyone is - we're either evens or odds depending on the year and we're two years apart), but for some reason this has been a real challenge for me. I'm seeing the Lord's great wisdom in not sending me more children earlier and closer together. I can definitively say I would have fallen apart. It doesn't help matters that my 2-year-old is still bound and determined to get this baby out of the house by any means necessary, and gives her mother incredible Mommy Guilt (I put the baby down for a nap, she holds up her arms and says, "Oh Mommy, is there room for me now?" She's very dramatic. I don't know where she gets this from), but we also have the usual push and pull of regular life, in addition to having my entire support system move a couple thousand miles away to Utah and having my oldest son go through some pretty severe times that included an in-patient hospital program and changes to his medications. But he's doing so well now and things are easing up and there's starting to be something of a schedule and life doesn't feel nearly as desperate and hopeless as it did when my doctor had to put me on Lexapro for post-partum depression. (Which I stopped taking 1) because I felt better and ran out of all the meds my doctor had given me and 2) because I'm pretty sure it was making my hair fall out and as I told my mother, "Right now I'd rather be sad than bald.")

So Resolution the First: I will get myself on some kind of writing schedule, even if it is for only 15 minutes a day. When I'd heard that Rob Wells got an agent I thought it might be in the realm of possibility for me, too. But this would necessitate, you know, actually writing. I have a romantic trilogy I'm writing where I had a lot for the first book, and just some basic general ideas about the second two. But since I came to a firm resolution that I would do this - the characters in the second two books have had A LOT to say and I'm frustrated that I can't write everything down fast enough. I suppose I could try natural speaking software but that might involve British accents and no good would come of that.

Resolution the Second: I am now the heaviest I have ever been. The last baby did unfun things to my internal organs and things separated and fat stayed. I came to discover this year that I have Hashimoto's thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disorder. Basically, the rebel white blood cells in my body have decided that my thryoid is Up To No Good and Must Be Stopped. Which involves destroying said thyroid. And as it turns out, thyroids are important for not being fat (they regulate your metabolism). I'm also wondering why if the white blood cells are on a rampage, couldn't they find some nice fat cells to obliterate? Why do they always have to attack stuff you need and not the stuff you don't want? Autoimmune disorders are apparently something that are often genetic, and occur more frequently in women. There's no history of them on my maternal side, and that probably means that in addition to large pores and premature gray hair, I seem to have inherited this funness from my dad's side of the family as well. But we don't know anything about it - my father's mother died when he was an infant, and my father's paternal grandfather ran away from home, changed his name and refused to tell my parents his real name (which they wanted for genealogy). So there's all this family history on my dad's side that we just don't have and we sort of get surprises from time to time with things like this. And then when you take into account what we do know from my maternal side (cancers of varying sizes and colors), the future is sort of troublesome.

But all of that is just a long-winded way of me saying that I have to start doing something to try and improve my situation. I can't be as complacent as I have been, and I will start by adhering closely to a Weight Watchers diet (the only thing that's ever worked for me) and working out with my Wii Fit for 10 minutes a day.

Resolution the Third: I will be better organized this year. I've learned in the past that a lack of organization has cost me and my family money. I will work on systems to help me stay on track and get the clutter out of my head and out of my home. I will pay closer attention to my shopping and getting deals; I will keep my home cleaner.

I will keep track of my progress and write it all down.

What about you? What are your resolutions for this year?