Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, April 30, 2010

Major News: I May Hyperventilate

If you recall, in September I posted the following on this blog:

I am finally writing a good book. I've spent the last four months not writing good books, but now I am. You may recall that two weeks ago my brother gave me the challenge: if I have a book to sell, he'd pay my way to the World Fantasy Convention at the end of October. Well, I am proud to say that I immediately started a book, outlined the entire plot, discovered that I'd outlined three books, cut it down, started writing it, and discovered it was crap. I did all of that in about four days. Then, one day I had to take my mom to the doctor's office, and while sitting in the waiting room I struck upon a great new idea. Since then (in six writing days) I've churned out 35,000 words, which is about half the length of the book. As you can imagine, I'm quite freaking pleased.

Then, in November I posted the following:

So, it's now pretty much official. I have an agent for my YA sci-fi book. It's Sara Crowe, with Harvey Klinger Agency. I'm all sorts of pleased. She's sold a lot of good stuff lately, and she seems like a really great person as well.

Well, I'm pleased (read: ECSTATIC) to announce the following (which was posted only minutes ago in Publisher's Marketplace:

Robison Wells's debut VARIANT, pitched as a modern-day LORD OF THE FLIES, set at a boarding school where not everything is as it seems and every day is a fight for survival, to Erica Sussman at Harper Children's, in a significant deal, in a three-book deal, by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger (world).

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Final Destination: Who Cares?!

by Kerry Blair

I’m not entirely sure I’m still welcome here after wandering off for so long without explanation, but my name is still on the mailbox and my key still fits in the lock, so . . . here I am! (It’s okay if you don’t have a fatted calf; I’ve been trying to stick to a diet of fruit, vegetables, and whole grain anyway.) How is everybody? I’ve missed you!

To continue the conference/Whitney theme: Since I couldn’t be in Utah last weekend, I threw myself a grand pity party and thoughtfully invited my whole family and part of my ward. Even though it was all over by Monday, I find myself still cleaning up a little here and there—mostly ripping up photos of the big event that people have thoughtlessly left laying around on the Internet. (Not that I’m jealous or anything.)

But by way of good-for-me news, I am now almost optimistic enough to say: “There’s always next year!” (I’m halfway through the latest round of chemo and, due to a change in schedule, almost coherent on a Friday!) Looking toward next year is a big step in the right direction for me. I’ve been rather . . . fatalistic . . . of late. I blame TNT.

About the time I learned that the cancer had advanced to the next stage, I spent an afternoon alone, on the couch, sleeping with the TV on. During one of my more-or-less wakeful periods, TNT showed an edited-for-almost-everybody version of Final Destination 2. The storyline involved a group of people who are saved from death in a horrific highway pile-up by one girl’s premonition. The thing is, you can’t cheat Death. One by one, the people who were spared the accident begin to die in some of the most, um, creative ways imaginable. (Imaginable by Poe, I mean.) And, to be honest, I can only assume they died. I didn’t see it. It was early afternoon—and TNT—so every scene ended before the pendulum met the pit. But there was dripping red Karo syrup and I never saw the actor again, so I feared the worst.

Anyway, it got me to thinking about how my diagnosis was almost like a premonition. From there I “naturally” extrapolated that taking chemo could be considered cheating death. (Lower case this time.) Was that what I was trying to do? Was I torturing myself and bankrupting my family only to postpone the inevitable? Heck, I don’t even cheat at Monopoly. (Usually.) Also, I’m not afraid to die. Then, because I have way too much imagination, some of it twisted, I was able to coax that passing fear of making the wrong choice into an obsession which I then raised to an art form. Not only did I agonize over whether or not to continue treatment, I spent odd hours imagining all kinds of marvelously ironic ways to perish at the end of hundreds of hours of
chemo-induced misery and thousands of dollars of medical bills.

I’m better now, thank you. The anti-psychotic drugs really help.

Okay, so I’m not serious. Or at least I’m mostly not serious. I did think about the whole why-am-I-postponing-death thing a little. I do think about it still sometimes. But it doesn’t haunt me. In fact, as much as I love irony, I think I could appreciate being hit by a bus the day I’m pronounced cured of cancer. That said, I am cautious around bus stops—and I will continue to use chemo to “cheat” just as long as I can get away with it. I don’t know exactly how the time and place of anyone’s demise is ascertained, but I’m very certain—and happy—that I’m not in charge of mine. (My imagination is too good.)

Today, in fact, I am not only going to look forward to next year, I’m going to plant a cherry tree to prove it. It’s Arbor Day, after all, and my long-and-not-very-interesting blog has reminded me of one of my husband’s favorite quotes. Some of the brethren of Wilford Woodruff’s time asked him when he thought the Savior would come and the world as we know it would end. President Woodruff is said to have replied, “I would live as if it were to be tomorrow—but I am still planting cherry trees!”*

Any of us could face the end of life today, tomorrow, or many years from now. I think President Woodruff’s attitude covers all possibilities. What really matters is what we do right now. When we plant cherry trees, we sow faith and joy in the day and hope for many morrows to come. You've got to admit: it beats watching horror movies.

And, speaking of bright new futures, a little frog told me there might be a major announcement coming a little later today. If you're reading this before that, come back! I promise, it's not to be missed!

*Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff; pg 250)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

In Keeping With the Theme of Conference

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I had such a wonderful time at the LDStorymakers conference. My class with Rob Wells went well and I had a lot of people come up to me afterward and tell me how refreshing it was to hear a man’s perspective as well as a woman’s perspective on writing. In case you forgot, Rob and I debated ten habits of successful writers. Rob made a powerpoint of each debate point and also made it Canada against the U.S. so we each represented our respective countries. The funny thing about that was, I had three Canadians come up to me after the class and tell me they wondered if Mr. Wells realized how many Canadians were truly in the class and that we definitely thought Canada won the debate. Haha. There was some controversy during the presentation about multi-tasking and whether it can truly be done and done well, which got a lot of discussion going, and was quite enlightening. Overall I thought the class went very well and I think we presented things that people hadn’t thought about before, which hopefully was helpful.

The First Chapter contest winners were also announced and I was so happy to see some talented writers recognized. Brodi Ashton was the Grand Prize winner for her Youth Fiction entry of Broken and it was very well done. Another one I was happy to see win was Jordan McCollom’s entry Saints and Spies. Her chapter premise was totally unique and was so well written, I was disappointed to only have one chapter to read. I hope it gets picked up and published soon so I can read the rest! A lot of the entries this year were very well done and I know I’m going to see some of them in print someday.

I had such an incredible time mingling with old and new friends, chatting about writing and characters, plots and twists, all kinds of writer stuff, it was just amazing. But I have to tell you of one experience I had that sort of stuck with me. I walked into a classroom that was packed (it was a class given by Kathy Jenkins, Managing Editor of Covenant Communications) and there were absolutely no more seats. Two men were sitting on the floor and a woman was standing at the back of the classroom. I stood there for a moment, listening to the presentation, and then I saw something that I think has become so rare in today’s society. A man sitting on the back row got up and offered his seat to the lady who was standing at the back. She gratefully accepted the offered seat, and this gentleman sat on the floor. I stood there a while longer, but since I am expecting, I knew I needed to sit down soon and I went in search of a chair. Four chairs were brought in for those who were on the floor and I ended up sitting next to the man who had given up his seat to someone else. We chatted for a while about authors, books, and publishing, and I found out that his name was Chris Schoebinger, a publishing director at Deseret Book and Shadow Mountain. He was so humble and sweet, I told him I was very impressed that he’d given up his seat for a lady and he just sort of smiled and acted like anyone would have done it. But in reality, that doesn’t happen often and it speaks volumes to me about what kind of man would, in fact, do something so gentlemanly. (And if he reads this, I hope I didn’t embarrass him!)

I also attended the Whitney awards ceremony for the first time and I have to say I was completely blown away by how professional it was and how much fun it was. I was honored to be a co-presenter with Crystal Liechty in announcing the award for Best Historical (G.G. Vandagriff won that category) and I also got to meet several authors I’ve always looked up to, like Gerald Lund and David Farland. It was just an incredible evening, and I was so excited to even be a part of it.

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend and I came home exhausted, but excited to start writing again and using all the techniques, tips, and ideas that I’d gleaned over the weekend. There’s really nothing like it, and I can’t wait until next year!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Storymakers Conference

by Stephanie Black

The LDS Storymakers Writers Conference, held at the Provo Marriott last weekend, was awesome, awesome, AWESOME! Conference chairs Jaime Theler, Crystal Liechty, and Tristi Pinkston did an incredible job, as did all the conference committee. This was my second year attending the conference, and I’m looking forward to next year.

I left Wednesday morning to drive to Utah. I was driving (as opposed to flying) so I could load up my daughter’s stuff and take her home from BYU. At the last minute, we decided to store her stuff in Provo, and I thought wow, I could have flown and saved myself twenty-four hours on the road. But as it turned out, even with storing the things she wouldn’t need over the summer, she still had about eight bazillion pounds of stuff, so the minivan was plenty full. Next fall, I’m going to make her sign an Affidavit of True Need for each item she wants to take with her. Think it’ll work?

I picked up author Melissa Aylstock along the way and we kept each other company through the long drive. Everything went smoothly. My husband had taught me how to put chains on the tires, but we didn’t end up needing them—it was snowing in the Sierras, but the snow wasn’t sticking to the roads. We made good time and arrived in Provo late Wednesday night. I spent Thursday helping my daughter pack up, which reminded me of what a pain in the neck moving is. On the plus side, I bought Krispy Kreme donuts and it was a happy moment indeed when they asked if I wanted a hot, fresh, free, bonus donut.

The only hitch in the weekend for me was sleep deprivation. I needed to be up very early, since I was a boot camp instructor (boot camp starts at 7:00 AM). Don’t you hate it when you’re worried about waking up on time so you keep waking up all night and checking the time? Urgh. On Thursday night, I was also worried about my presentation the next day, which didn’t help with the sleep thing. I woke up at 3:10 and couldn't get back to sleep. I finally gave up, got out my computer and went through my presentation again. Good thing everyone else in the house was asleep, or they might have thought it freaky to come upon me sitting in the dark, whispering to myself about mystery and suspense—almost as freaky as the sight of me sitting in my car in a parking lot the previous evening, talking to myself as I went through the presentation. At least no one called the cops, though if they had, maybe I could have asked the responding officer for advice on writing police procedurals.

My class—“Weaving Chills and Thrills: Techniques for Mystery/Suspense Writers” went well, so I’m very happy about that. My very first PowerPoint! I feel so technologically advanced! Okay, it was a very plain PowerPoint, without any pictures or animation or anything, but it WAS a PowerPoint and even had a sort of mystery-looking background my daughter had found for me. John Ferguson, bless him, showed me how to work everything. And I did hit the wrong arrow key and went backward once, but it all worked out. Boot camp also went well—we had a great group of writers at our table, and everyone was very helpful and insightful in giving feedback to each other. Two of our boot campers, Jordan McCollum and Kathleen Perrin, won prizes in the First Chapter contest. Hooray!

Saturday morning I was on a Writing Processes panel. I was on a panel last year and found out it wasn’t that scary, so I wouldn’t have been particularly nervous except that I was feeling rather out of my league. The other people on the panel were all big-name authors: Aprilynne Pike, Dan Wells, David Wolverton/Farland and Anita Stansfield. I’m not worthy! But once the moderator, Heather Moore, started asking the questions the audience had submitted, I realized I did have things to contribute, and it turned out to be fun.

Saturday night was the Whitney Awards gala, and Rob Wells and the Whitney committee did a fantastic job. The competition in Mystery/Suspense was extremely fierce (heck, competition in all categories was brutal). I’d told myself many times that [book that wasn’t mine by an awesome author I admire greatly] was going to win, wanting to prepare myself and not let my hopes get high. That moment when the lovely ladies of the LDS Women’s Book Review called out the name of my book—wow! Deseret News reporter Michael DeGroote was sitting at the same table as I was and snapped a picture of me when they announced the winner; you can see it in the Mormon Times article here. I’d claim I was all calm and dignified and articulate when I gave my acceptance speech, but if you were at the gala, you’ll know I’m lying, and even if you weren’t at the gala, that picture probably gives it away. I feel deeply honored and deeply grateful for this award, especially considering the AMAZING competition.

Here are some pictures from the conference and Whitney gala. I'll have additional pictures posted on my website later today.

From left to right: me, Stephanie Fowers, Janette Rallison (Janette was a Whitney finalist for Best Young Adult fiction), Candace Salima.

With Rachel Nunes and KC Grant.

Hillary Parkin, Shanda Cottam, Angela Eschler, and Sheila Staley.

Proof that Rob Wells called me Saturday morning to ask, "What are YOU wearing today?" He wanted to be twins.

With Heather Moore (Best Historical finalist) and Josi Kilpack (Best Mystery/Suspense finalist).

With Gale Sears (Best General Fiction finalist) and James Dashner (Best Speculative Fiction finalist).

With my daughter, Amy. Amy was my date for the evening. And no we didn't plan to match--it was pure coincidence.

With Dan Wells (Best Novel by a New Author winner--first ever tie in the Whitney voting; he won with Riley Noehren).

In other news, I've finally joined Twitter. My, um, Twitter name--is that what you call it?--is StephanieMBlack (pause now for Rob to tell me I got the terminology wrong and I sound like his grandmother).

Monday, April 26, 2010

LDStorymaker's Conference & The Importance of Patience

Wow! What a great time I had at the LDStorymakers conference in Provo, Utah, this last weekend. It was so great, seeing everyone and hearing so many inspirational stories of failure, trials, and ultimately success. Writing is definitely a contact sport. You have to be willing to work hard and get a lot of rejection. Even authors you think must have coasted to their big contracts saw lots of setbacks most people don’t know about. In the final class I did, (see the video below for a spoof of how James and I came up with it) James mentioned something I saw more and more of. It is the need for patience.

As writers, you would think we would understand that writing takes time, and good writing takes even more time. A quality manuscript can takes months or even years to write. Then we take months more to rewrite it. Then we take years to get it published. We know this, and yet we are always looking for a shortcut. Just a few thoughts I’d like to share from some things I saw or heard.

Don’t be in such a big hurry to get your manuscript out to an agent. A fast no is not better than a slow yes.

Just because you typed “the end” does not mean you are done. The best authors I know rewrite many times. Are you really so much better than NYT Bestselling authors that your work is sellable after the first pass?

More than ever, editors are requiring authors to submit higher quality manuscripts. With many publishers cutting staff over the past few years, they are looking for manuscripts that they can take to committee without massive rewrites. Get plenty of feedback and put in the work before sending your baby into the world.

It is not as hard as you think to go back and fix a broken story. Don’t have a strong enough villain? Go back and make him stronger. Realized your world isn’t as complete as you’d like? Take it a chapter at a time and add more detail. Remember, diamonds don’t come cut and polished.

Finally, that query letter. I know you are anxious, but do your research. Get feedback. Make your query the best it can be, so your story will get the look it deserves.

The same advice can be applied to life. The best things don't come fast. Give yourself permission to take an extra week--or month--writing your story if it means you get to spend a few more minutes every day playing with your kids, or getting enough exercise, or being with your spouse.

Here’s a fun little movie I made of James and me coming up with our Q&A workshop—which was a blast to do!

Here's the link:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Going Off the Grid

by Sariah S. Wilson

The easiest thing to do today would be to put up a list of Whitney Award winners and call it a day, but then I thought I'd have to go hunting for book covers and stuff (which is work, and ugh) and thought Rob might want to do it since he like started the Whitney Awards and then he might actually post. But if anyone's interested and hasn't seen it, you can read more about the Whitney Awards at Mormon Times. (Woot Stephanie!)

Recently we cancelled our phone. Our phone company provided our (supposedly) high speed internet and landline, long distance, cell phones, etc.

We've had serious issues with our extremely expensive internet service (including one two-week period of time we had no connectivity at all, but our phone company charged us for services anyway). After months and months of phone calls and technician visits, one technician finally revealed that we had a faulty server which was causing us to be unable to stay connected to the internet during times of high activity and made our services extremely slow. The company had no intention of replacing it because it would be too expensive.

My techie husband explored several options and decided on getting us Verizon air cards (we had to get two because we use the internet a lot) and two unlimited Cricket cell phones. The cost is exactly the same as what our phone company charged, but now we have a stable connection that always works.

He happily cancelled all of our services through our phone company (who were shocked, SHOCKED, that we would think for one second that they would ever allow us to have inferior hardware and could not, NOT, believe that we would even imply such a thing).

After this experiment, I think I prefer having access to a landline. I miss it - and the quality on my Cricket phone is not always the best (but is fine considering what we pay).

But there's been a certain degree of serenity that comes from being inaccessible. We've given the new number to the people that must be able to reach us if necessary (schools, doctor's offices, friends and family, etc.) but no one else. I can't tell you how nice it's been to have not had a single telemarketing phone call for the last month.

So when we move to Utah, I'll probably insist on a line in the house.

Does anyone else rely totally on cell phones? Do you prefer it?

And for a bonus question today, can anyone tell me what Utah builder makes this house?

I'm really wanting to see a floor plan for it, but don't know who builds it!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Busy, Busy, Busy

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Tomorrow is the LDStorymakers conference and I’m spending today getting a few things wrapped up so I can be prepared. I’ve been the head of the First Chapter contest this year and we had a record number of entries, which also meant we had a record number of evaluations and feedback that needed printed out and stuffed in envelopes for each entrant. After using four ink cartridges, five reams of paper, and getting eight paper cuts, I finally have all 915 evaluations printed out and put in envelopes. And it feels good. (Except for the paper cuts.)

I’m also preparing for my class presentation with Robison Wells. I’m presenting what I think are ten habits of successful writers and Robison will be presenting his ten and then we will argue about who is right. Yeah, it’s going to be fun.

And last, but not least, I’m a presenter at the Whitney Gala on Saturday and since I am expecting a baby I don’t have a thing to wear. Finding something is definitely on my to do list for today.

So as you can see, it’s going to be extra busy today so I can enjoy seeing all my writer friends this weekend. And unfortunately, that means the blog will be short and sweet. But I hope you will wish me luck with my class and presentation. I might need it!

(If you are coming to the conference, please find me and introduce yourself. I’d love to meet you! If not, maybe next year.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Literary Definitions or "What are they talking about?"

In honor of this weekend’s LDStorymakers writers conference—and because I don’t want to be viewed as quite as flakey as Rob—I thought we would help anon out today with some definitions of writing terms he or she might not have heard of. I’ll start with a few and you add your own.

Infodump—This is when the author wants to give the reader information. But instead of using dialogue, actions, or any other means of passing the information along as part of the story, the author stops the story by writing something like: XYZ Labs was a company that made tire valves. They’d been in business since 1941, and had ups and downs since then. They were located in Spanish Fork, Utah which was about an hour south of Salt Lake. Jim began work there when he was twenty and managed to climb his way to manager before he was thirty. It was a good job, but sometimes he wished he could be a ballerina instead.

Show don’t tell—This is when the author tells the reader something instead of letting them see it for themselves. Writing, As Sandra stepped into the bathroom she was afraid. Instead of, Sandra pushed the door open several inches and peeked in. She reached her hand just far enough inside to flip on the switch, and crouched, listening.

Telling can also be tied to an overuse of adverbs—especially in dialogue tags. “Help!” Mike yelled loudly. “Don’t forget to leave the bag in the hiding place,” Rob whispered conspiratorially. “Gosh this is the best present ever,” Teddy yelped excitedly.

BTW, dialogue tags is another writing term. Tags are things like: said, yelled, growled, shouted, cried, whispered. Most of the time you want to simply use said, or even no tag at all if you can get away with it. For example:

“Hey, is that you?” Bob peeked out the window.
“Of course it is,” Mike said.
“Oh. Thank goodness. I thought it was a robber.”

Genre is one we use quite a bit. Genre is the type of novel you are writing. Mystery, thriller, women’s fiction, romance, fantasy. This can also be combined with the age you are writing for. YA Romance, or middle grade fantasy. If you are struggling to figure out what genre you are writing, look at where the story starts and ends. If your story begins with the main character unhappy with her life and ends with her happily married, it is probably a romance, even if she solves crimes in between. If the main story line is her catching crooks, but she falls in love during the story, you probably have a mystery. Of course there are subgenres like romantic suspense, historical fantasy, and middle-grade erotic werewolf mystery romances.

The last one I’ll do today is foreshadowing, since we’ve talked about this recently too. Foreshadowing is hinting to the reader about something that will happen later in the book. Heavy-handed foreshadowing is frowned on. “For the rest of her life she wondered what might have happened if she’d never opened the door that Saturday.” Subtle foreshadowing can make the story more exciting for the readers. For example if I describe a waiter as having a heavy limp, greasy hair, questioning eyes, and being overly attentive to the couple in the restaurant, the reader will expect that the waiter will play a greater part in the story. If I begin by telling my readers that Bobby and Shandra are committed to never dating each other, the readers will immediately ask how soon Bobby and Shandra will get together. If I begin a horror novel with children getting lost in an abandoned gold mine thirty years ago, the reader will expect to see more of that mine. While it is fine to create false turns and red herrings, try never to foreshadow something that doesn’t play a role later in the story. That is called a loose string.

Now it’s your turn. What are some of your favorite literary terms?

Can’t wait to see you all this weekend!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Ending

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Well, since my blog about first chapters went over so well last week, I thought I would talk about the ending of a book this week.

How do you know when to end your book?

That is a dilemma that every writer faces. Do you end it on a cliffhanger? Do you end it in a nice little bow? Happy ending? Sad ending? What is best for your novel?

As a reader, I enjoy happy endings with all the loose ends tied up. And as a writer, I tend to do this in my writing. However, in my book All’s Fair, the editor chopped off my tied up loose ends, which left the ending quite open-ended. At the time, I just nodded my head and let them do it, but part of me was sad to let the ending I really wanted go into the cut file. And when I started doing book signings and PR for that book, I was really sad I’d let that go into the cut file because so many people said they felt dissatisfied with such an ending and wanted more. Of course it was easy to put the “deleted scene,” on my website and direct people there who wanted more of an ending, and those people who liked open-ended endings could be satisfied with what had made it into the book, but what sort of ending is best is definitely a fine line to walk as an author.

I once spoke to a national author who said they always wrapped up the original storyline, but subtly introduced a new storyline into the story and left that one open at the end so it would pave the way for her next book. So she walked the fine line of giving closure, but still have something open, which I liked and am sort of leaning toward in my next novels.

Lois Lowry once was quoted about ending a book and in my opinion, sort of thought the same thing as my national author friend. She said:

Is there a rule that one can follow? Probably not. But there is, I think, a test against which the writer can measure his ending, his stopping place. When something more is going to take place, but the characters have been so fully drawn, and the preceding events so carefully shaped that the reader, on reflection, knows what more will happen, and is satisfied by it — then the book ends.”

So you can still have more that could happen, but when your characters have fulfilled your readers’ expectation and are satisfied, then that’s when you’ve found your ending.

Or, there's always the alternative that if you can't decide on where to end it all, you try the somewhat Shakespearean route and kill off all your characters in the end. It could go something like this:

“Suddenly, without warning, a large gaping hole opened up in the earth and swallowed them all.”

Easy, breezy, and simple. Sort of fun, too. ;)

But no matter where you choose to end your novel, keep in mind that you want to end the book where your characters, your readers, and you as the author will be satisfied that the arc is complete or there is some sort of feeling of closure. As Jeff Savage can attest to, you don’t want to leave a cliffhanger for long or the mobs will start to combine against you to get the next book out.

Besides, it is very creatively satisfying to sit back and really enjoy typing these words on your masterpiece:


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Normal Life

by Stephanie Black

Wednesday again? Really? Crad (that’s my nine-year-old son’s new faux cuss word). I suppose this means I need to blog again. I told my husband I didn’t know what to blog about. He suggested shoelaces. I’m not sure I can make a go of that, so if any other bloggers want the topic, it’s all yours. Cheers!

So . . . life. I’m woefully behind on girls camp prep, but we’ll get there. I’ve got tons left to do on preparing the mystery/suspense class I’m teaching at the Storymakers conference next week (next week!!!). I hit page 300 on my work-in-progress, and figure I’ve got, oh, maybe forty or fifty pages left to go in this draft, so I’m excited about that. After I finish the first draft, then it’s time to fix it so it makes sense. I hear readers are picky about that. In other news, I rejoined a community symphony after I got a call telling me they really needed second violins. I’d bailed out of the symphony a while back because it was too hard being gone on Tuesdays for rehearsals and then on Wednesdays for Mutual. But I no longer have to attend Mutual, so my week's a bit easier. I’m excited to be playing 2nd violin—I haven’t done that in years and hooray, there aren’t as many scary high parts.

Things are pretty normal with the family, which is to say, they’re nuts. For example, at FHE we sometimes play "fruit basket tipped over." You might be familiar with this game, or a variation on it. Each of you chooses a piece of fruit to be, such as “I’m a strawberry.” This time my five-year-old daughter made the game “everything tipped over,” so you didn’t have to be a piece of fruit—you could be anything. We ended up with:

A slime mold
A lamppost
A giant squid
A rose
A blue whale
The flush valve of a toilet

A psychologist would have a field day with us. But that's par for the course around here. Courtesy of my sixteen-year-old daughter, there’s a drawing of a lemur posted on the fridge with the notation, “Bow to our Dear Lemur and welcome his benevolent rule.” When I tried to wake up my nine-year-old son for scripture reading yesterday, his response was “Big bowl of sauerkraut!”, which will only make sense to Weird Al fans, after which he fell back asleep and missed the whole thing. He could sleep through the battle of Armageddon. I’ve never had this much trouble waking up a young kid before, and I’m living in fear for when he’s a teenager. I’m also living in fear for when he gets a driver’s license, since he’s the kid who used to keep walking full speed ahead while looking backward (yes, he has smacked into a pole before). Of course, at the rate we’re going, he’ll probably be the first kid in the family to get a driver’s license. I have two driving-aged children and nary a license to be found. On the plus side, our insurance is cheaper.

On the way to seminary this morning, my daughter remarked, “Guess what? Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley.” The second half of the dream had been about hermit crabs, so it wasn’t all that exciting, she reported. This is the same kid who dreamed that she was playing basketball with the brothers Karamazov (well, Dmitri was just watching).

And then there was incident when the nine-year-old put his sister’s Easter Peep in the microwave, which was the end of her “Peep friend.” She wasn't happy. Of course, this was the girl who on Easter periodically said she was going to go torture Peeps and would proceed to do so in the vaccum packer canister. It didn’t work very well this year, though. Our vacuum packer must have gone wimpy. The Peep would swell a little, but not much—not like when we did it a few years ago and wooooOOOOOHHH, the Peep would get huge as you sucked the air out of the canister. It was very entertaining, and perhaps the only valid use for Peeps.

My oldest daughter gets home from college in a week and a half. I’ll be picking her up at BYU when I go to the Storymakers conference (bless the organizers for picking that week for the conference! Perfect timing). I can’t believe she’s almost done with her first year of college. While she’s been gone, we’ve done a lot of our communicating via Google chat. This has been a sweet, tender opportunity to bond as mother and adult daughter, in loving conversations like this:

Amy: addicted to cranberry juice, i am
me: weird that is
Amy: i'm serious
i really like it
me: good for your bladder it is
Amy: and my kidneys
me: k

'Til next week, when I plan to wring my hands over the fact that I'm still not ready for my mystery/suspense class.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Recent Books I've Read

by Sariah S. Wilson

This has been a huge family day and I'm worn out from all the running around and celebrating we did today, so this will probably be short.

One of the things I worry about as a writer is repeating myself. How can you write a lot of books and not repeat things? When I started writing my third book I found that I had inserted a scene very similar to my first and I had to remove it. I had to fix some of the climax scenes because they too bore resemblance to earlier works. (I suppose I like certain types of action scenes.)

I've recently read some NYT bestsellers and felt pretty disappointed. As I've said, I understand the tendency to repeat yourself or to do things that feel very similar to previous works and that it gets harder to write new things as time goes on.

So, with James Patterson's "Witch and Wizard," I think I can say that I don't get James Patterson. Maybe it's because I haven't read some of his earlier suspense/thriller novels, but I read "Sundays at Tiffany's" and I didn't think it was romantic. I thought it was creepy. I couldn't get why people liked it.

That novel, of course, wasn't technically written by Patterson. He's so famous now that he has only to put his name on something and let somebody else write it and it goes to number one (how must it be?). Perhaps that's part of the problem, that the book technically isn't his voice. It may have been his ideas and done under his direction, but the words aren't his. And isn't that why you buy an author? Not for the idea, but the execution?

I think I would like to read some of his earlier novels that he actually wrote and see if I like them. Because there must be something to him to do as well as he does.

"Witch and Wizard" is terrible. I like YA postapocalyptic fiction. I like paranormals. But this one, for me, failed on every account. The reactions to the circumstances, the language used, the powers, the multiple paranormal things happening...I finished it (since I usually finish books) but I didn't like it and I won't be reading any of the (obviously coming) sequels.

I also finished "The Lost Symbol" by Dan Brown. I read once that the first Dan Brown book you read will be your favorite, and so far that continues to hold true for me. I wasn't impressed. In "The DaVinci Code," the information felt far more organic. It seemed to flow better when he introduced some new, fascinating fact. This time I felt like I was being lectured and information dumps happened in several chapters. I also wasn't surprised by any of the "twists" in this book - it was pretty easy to figure out who the shadowy bad guys were and what people wanted. Having watched "National Treasure," I figured the Masons could do better treasure-wise than they did in Brown's book. I also thought the motivations in this one were not nearly as good or believable.

How about you? Read any good books lately?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

First Chapters and More

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I’ve been thinking a lot about first chapters these days and how important a first chapter is, not only to a book, but to hook the reader, the agent, or whoever is reading it. If I could say anything about writing a first chapter, I would say four things.

Build a solid character from the beginning. Give us details, help us care about them and what they’re going to do. Make them believable and identifiable. Dig deep. Find an emotional center that will appeal to your audience and bring them with you on your character’s journey no matter what it will be.

Have your main character involved in a situation of some sort right away. Build the tension. Draw your reader in so they want to turn the page and see what happens.

Give your reader an anchor with a strong setting. Don’t make them guess where your character is. If she’s in her car, driving around a darkened city looking for her best friend who just called her in a panic, tell us what she’s seeing with the lights passing by, or that she’s smelling the oranges that she bought at the grocery store earlier and that makes her stomach rumble. Give us sensory details so we can be right there in the car with her.

Don’t try to pack everything into one chapter. No info dumps---don’t give me the entire life story and more in the first ten pages. Let the information come out naturally, build the tension by sprinkling in backstory details, which will also let me imagine it.

Your first chapter sets the stage for the entire book and for your style as an author. Make it count and make it shine.

Answers from last week’s quiz:

Do you believe that I met Princess Diana when I was thirteen years old? True statement. She was on walkabout in Canada right after she was first married and I got to meet and briefly talk to her.

Do you believe that I am expecting my eighth child in the fall? True statement. We are very excited about it!

Do you believe that I was once bitten by a poisonous spider and am now deathly afraid of spiders of any kind? Not true. I’ve never been bitten by a spider and am not deathly afraid of them.

Do you believe that Jeff Savage once worked as a mall Santa? True statement.

Do you believe that Jeff Savage purposely didn’t finish the next book in the Shandra Covington series just to torture his fans and that he giggles about it several times a day? Well, as Jeff announced on Monday we DO get another Shandra. But I still think he’s enjoyed the pain of his fans hanging on the edge of their seats waiting all these years.

Do you believe that Jeff Savage once owned a spastic golden retriever? Not true. He owned a spastic border collie.

Do you believe that Stephanie Black plays the violin? Very true. And she’s in an orchestra I heard!

Do you believe that Stephanie Black lived in Arizona and briefly worked as a tour guide for the Grand Canyon? Not true. She lived in Arizona, but never made it to the Grand Canyon.

Do you believe that Stephanie Black’s favorite Disney movie is The Emperor’s New Groove? (That would explain a lot if it is true, wouldn’t it?) True.

Do you believe that Robison Wells is distantly related to H.G. Wells from War of the Worlds fame? Not true.

Do you believe that his parents actually meant to name him Robinson, but the nurse wrote down Robison for his birth certificate and they never corrected it? Not true.

Do you believe that Robison Wells’ favorite vacation was to Canada where he loved the atmosphere, food, and most of all, the people? I don’t know if Rob’s ever been to Canada, but I know he has an appreciation for the awesome people. J

Do you believe that Kerry Blair has a collection of voodoo dolls? Not true.

Do you believe that Kerry Blair is one of the sweetest, most Christlike women on the planet? Very true.

Do you believe that Kerry Blair loves surprises? Somewhat true. haha

Do you believe Sariah Wilson is the oldest of nine children? True.

Do you believe Sariah Wilson was a cheerleader in high school? True.

Do you believe that Sariah Wilson got married on her 20th birthday? It was her 21st birthday.

Thanks to those of you who played!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

In Which I Blame Rob Wells

by Stephanie Black

Since I was a slacker last week, I figure I’d better blog this week, even though I don’t want to. This time it's Rob Wells’ fault that I don’t want to blog. Not because I’ve been corrupted by his bad example in not blogging yesterday—heck, he hardly ever blogs these days, callously disregarding the fact that we're all expiring in a literary desert of despair, yearning for his words. Either that or we're just feeling funky from eating too much Easter candy. Either way. But remember the heyday of Rob’s blogging when he blogged regularly here at the Frog's pad? Remember the interview with Edward Cullen? Ha ha! Remember the Brands of Wrath? Everyone send Rob a message hassling him about not blogging regularly. Then send him a cute email forward, preferably one involving puppies and an inspirational message, and follow it up with something involving conspiracy theories. This will cheer him up. Tell him Stephanie sent you.

So yeah, it’s all his fault that I’d rather be doing something else right now. This is the choice I’m stuck with:

a) Figure out something to blog about. Take lots of time to write it, revise it, polish it, and post it.


b) Read a very gripping book wherein I have no idea WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON and I MUST FIND OUT.

Come on—which would you choose? Admit it.

See, a couple of months ago, Rob was kind/fiendish enough to send me a copy of his manuscript, a YA sci fi that his agent is currently shopping for him. My daughters devoured it to the tune of sleep deprivation and nearly flunking out of school. I told Rob he was a swath of destruction in our family. I’m fairly sure he was proud of this. I didn’t have time to read the book at the time, since it was the Whitney Crunch-a-Thon (final total: 28 out of 30 books read, so I was able to vote in 6 out of 8 categories. Not bad, huh?) but planned to read it once Whitney ballots were in. So I started the book this week and I’m really enjoying it. It’s fascinating, gripping, creepy, exciting, and all that good stuff. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

So what’s on your post-Whitney reading list? Mine includes Diane Mott Davidson’s Fatally Flaky, Connie Willis’s Blackout, and Steve Brust’s The Book of Jhereg. I’m also gearing up to buy some new fiction by LDS authors when I go to the LDS Storymakers conference in a couple of weeks. A couple of book I plan to get are Annette Lyon's Band of Sisters and Karen Hoover's The Sapphire Flute. Got any other recommendations for me?

Monday, April 05, 2010

Shandra is Back

I know there were doubters that Shandra would ever be back. Those of you who thought you'd never find out what happened to Bobby. Well here's actual proof that I did not abandon my Shandra readers.

When reporter Shandra Covington finds her best friend, Bobby Richter, close to death on Shandra’s apartment floor, she knows the bullet was meant for her. Making matters worse, Bobby’s fiancée is making sure Shandra gets nowhere near the hospital room where Bobby lies in a coma. With her apartment in shambles and possibly still dangerous, Shandra is forced to stay with her tough-as-nails Harley-riding private investigator friend. In an attempt to clear her mind, Shandra agrees to do a newspaper story on the death of a prominent politician’s daughter. But what she thought was a simple overdose story soon grows into something much more sinister when she finds a common thread with the recent deaths of several young women—all thought to be overdose victims. What do the clues mean? The only person who knows for sure is the Time Keeper—a self-proclaimed true romantic who devotedly tapes a picture of each new love to the bedside wall of his ailing sister. However, the pictures are obituaries spreading across the wall like macabre wallpaper. Time to unravel the mystery is quickly ticking away as Bobby’s life hangs by a thread—and the next “girlfriend” on the Time Keeper’s list is Shandra.

And those of you who I promised an electronic copy of A Time to Die, you shall have it shortly. I am just waiting for the final PDF.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Easter Traditions and the iPad

by Sariah S. Wilson

I'm here, Julie! It's mostly because I'm procrastinating putting together Easter baskets for my kids.

Speaking of which...I wondered about everyone's Easter traditions. Living in Cincinnati, which used to be mainly populated by German Catholics (my kids just recently did a "heritage box" for display at school, and I swear to you 90% of those boxes were German), has led to some interesting cultural situations (such as the typical Cincinnatian saying, "Please?" when they don't understand you/hear you instead of "What?" or "Say again?" or "Excuse me?" which my mother first discovered upon asking for directions, to which she got her "Please?" so my mom said, "Okay, can you please tell me how to get to the freeway from here?"), but one of the best things is we all get Good Friday off here because it's such a big deal celebration/tradition-wise. We have these stairs near a cathedral that people climb and stuff like that.

My family's Easter traditions are probably pretty basic - we dye eggs the night before, have an Easter Bunny visit in the morning and an egg hunt, and then usually go to church (although we'll have more General Conference tomorrow) and have a big family dinner that night (with ham, but I insist on having turkey too because 1) you can never have too much turkey and 2) I don't much care for ham.) We'll have deviled eggs as part of our dinner, which became a tradition probably because my mom wanted to figure out a way to use up as many hard-boiled eggs as she could.

Do you have any unique traditions for Easter? Or do you celebrate the old-fashioned way? (Speaking of which, I want to know if anyone's in an Easter parade. I always thought that'd be the coolest thing to get dressed up in new Easter clothes and be in a parade like Fred Astaire.)

And not that this has anything to do with the other, but I want to know your thoughts on the iPad. I read an article claiming computers as we know them would now change, and so I'm curious - have you bought an iPad? Do you plan on buying one soon? Are you interested in even owning a device like this, or is what you have now good enough for your needs?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Do You Believe?

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Well, in honor of April Fool’s Day today and the fact that I’m the only one who has blogged so far this week (where is everyone? Probably all on vacation together and no one thought to invite me. *sniff*) I thought we could play a little game. Just for fun and to get to know the Six LDS Writers better, let's play, “Do You Believe?”

Do you believe that I met Princess Diana when I was thirteen years old?

Do you believe that I am expecting my eighth child in the fall?

Do you believe that I was once bitten by a poisonous spider and am now deathly afraid of spiders of any kind?

Do you believe that Jeff Savage once worked as a mall Santa?

Do you believe that Jeff Savage purposely didn’t finish the next book in the Shandra Covington series just to torture his fans and that he giggles about it several times a day?

Do you believe that Jeff Savage once owned a spastic golden retriever?

Do you believe that Stephanie Black plays the violin?

Do you believe that Stephanie Black lived in Arizona and briefly worked as a tour guide for the Grand Canyon?

Do you believe that Stephanie Black’s favorite Disney movie is The Emperor’s New Groove? (That would explain a lot if it is true, wouldn’t it?)

Do you believe that Robison Wells is distantly related to H.G. Wells from War of the Worlds fame?

Do you believe that his parents actually meant to name him Robinson, but the nurse wrote down Robison for his birth certificate and they never corrected it?

Do you believe that Robison Wells’ favorite vacation was to Canada where he loved the atmosphere, food, and most of all, the people?

Do you believe that Kerry Blair has a collection of voodoo dolls?

Do you believe that Kerry Blair is one of the sweetest, most Christlike women on the planet?

Do you believe that Kerry Blair loves surprises?

Do you believe Sariah Wilson is the oldest of nine children?

Do you believe Sariah Wilson was a cheerleader in high school?

Do you believe that Sariah Wilson got married on her 20th birthday?

I will post the answers next week, and I hope if you played along, it was fun for you to get to know us a little better. Of course, anyone who gets all of the answers correct should get a plaque or certificate stating that they are the Six LDS Writers biggest fan. I'll see what I can do about that.

I also wanted to announce the winners of my Water for Warriors contest! THANK YOU to everyone who donated and helped spread the word. I’m going to finish picking up all the collection boxes today, but so far the donations have been such that it makes me feel weepy to know how many people care about our soldiers and wanted to help with my charity.


For an autographed copy of Dangerous Connections, the winners were:

UT Mom of 4

Taffy Lovell


Stephanie Black


For a copy of the DVD One Good Man the winners were:

Charlie Moore

H.B. Moore

Annette Lyon

L.T. Elliot


And the grand prize winner, the person who gets to name a character in my next novel is:


(Brenda sent me one of the cutest pictures of her and her friend donating to Water for Warriors. I forgot to ask her permission to repost it here! But you can believe me, it was cute.)

Again, thank you to everyone who participated, and if the winners would please email me their snail mail addresses to I will mail you your prizes.