Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Blessing or a Curse? Guest Blog by Lynn Gardner

I've always written....something. When I was little, I made up stories to entertain my younger siblings as I tended them. Some I wrote down, some I didn't. In high school, I even wrote essays in English for half the football team. I won prizes writing essays. Then I began journaling. With the exception of the years when my four kids were little and I didn't have time to even think, much less write, that habit stuck with me from high school until now. (What do you do with all those journals? The prophet said to write them. Did he also say we have to keep them for others to read?)

I wrote plays, road shows, special sacrament meetings programs for Christmas and Easter, leadership skits, then for 20 years, I wrote and edited a family newsletter. It wasn't until my kids began leaving the nest that I seriously began writing an actual book. No, wait! I was writing down a story. I wasn't actually writing a book because I didn't know how. I could tell a story, but there is a big difference in the two. I went to writer's conferences, took classes, bought a gazillion books on how to write, and I actually got published when I was 55!

Twelve books later, for reasons I won't go into here, I stopped telling stories. I stopped writing. Twelve grandchildren. Twelve books. That came out nice and even, and now I'm going to enjoy my grandkids while they still are at the age that gramma's are cool. That was the plan. No more angst. No more rewrites. No more last minute editing - (I can totally empathize with you on that, Stephanie.)

But somewhere between Emeralds and Espionage and Pearls and Peril, fifteen years ago, a ghost story began to haunt me. Year after year I put it aside, pushed it back into wherever it was coming from, and thought I was done with it. A couple of years ago, the ghost burst upon the scene again, demanding to be heard. I didn't have a work in progress, so in order to have something to read at my critique group, I dabbled with the story. But I didn't really want to get back into the writing world so I didn't take it too seriously, and was relieved when our group, which had been together for ten years or more, sort of dissolved because of busy schedules. Great! I really could retire from the writing scene, with the exception of maybe some little gift type books that didn't overtake my life with deadlines and guilt trips when I went to play with my husband or the grandkids.

My husband and I went to Thailand, Cambodia and China two years ago and not a single story line surfaced the entire 27 days we were gone. My husband and two of my daughters were actually quite relieved. They figured I'd been cured and they wouldn't have to suffer the angst with me when people said things like greed wasn't a motive for murder.

But the ghost wasn't about to shoved aside or edited out, or ignored. And so you'll find me harnessing myself to the computer once again and telling the story this ghost is insisting be told. We even took a 5000 mile trip in May visiting sites where the book will take place (on our way to the high school graduation of a granddaughter in Louisiana.)

So my question is this: Once a storyteller, always a storyteller? Is there no rest, no retiring from the creative process? Are we born with the storyteller DNA or genes or whatever it is and it is a fate we cannot escape? And do we really want to?

I'll get back to you when the ghost is finally laid to rest. In the meantime, how do you feel about that? Can you quit? Walk away and not create the stories that flow through your heads and spill out onto pages for others to enjoy? Is it a blessing or a curse?

Lynn Gardner is the bestselling author of the "jewel" mystery series, beginning with Emeralds and Espionage, and the Maggie McKenzie mystery series, beginning with Vanished. Her most recent book is Pursued. Lynn blogs at the V-Formation.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Look To Your Front

by Robison Wells

I’ve been on a bit of a Tolkien kick lately, and I recently stumbled across something that made me think about the business of writing.

Through circumstances that I can’t exactly remember, I downloaded a podcast by Dr. Tom Shippey, an aquaintance of Tolkien’s and a scholar on medeival literature. The podcast was a recording of Shippey speaking at Swarthmore College on the subject of the recent Lord of the Rings movies. He had been a consultant on the films and was asked to speak on the differences between the text and the screen. (Not the nitpicky details, but the larger questions about whether or not the changes actually altered the meaning of the books.)

One subject he discusses is the Palantiri. If you’ve seen the movies, you’ll remember the basketball-sized black stones through which people communicate (willingly or unwillingly) with Sauron, the dark lord.

In some ways, a Palantir is not unlike a video conference, where people can look at each other and chat over long distances. But Sauron also had control over the stones, and while he couldn’t make them lie–he couldn’t show viewers things that weren’t true–he could definitely mislead viewers with selective images.

Okay, Rob, quit being a nerd. What does this have to do with writing? (I’m getting there. Hang on.)

Shippey states that, in the Lord of the Rings novels, the Palantiri always represent a sort of poor speculation. In every specific instance in which we see their use, the viewer (whether it is Sauron or someone else) sees real, true images, but–without exception–draws the wrong conclusion.

For example:

  • Saruman looks into the stone and sees Sauron’s frighteningly huge preparations for war, and Saruman concludes (WRONGLY) that there is no hope of resistance.

  • Pippin looks into Saruman’s stone, and Sauron sees Pippin. Sauron knows that the One Ring is being carried by a hobbit, so Sauron concludes (WRONGLY) that Pippin has the ring and Saruman has captured him.

  • Aragorn looks into the stone, and Sauron sees him. Sauron now thinks (WRONGLY) that Aragorn has the ring.

  • Denethor looks into the stong and sees Frodo captured by the Orcs in Mordor. He concludes (WRONGLY) that Sauron has the ring, that all is lost, and Denethor promptly kills himself.

What everyone sees is true, but they all draw the wrong conclusions.

Shippey gives his explanation as to what this all means. He uses the old motto of the British Redcoats: “Look To Your Front.”

Says Shippey: “Look to your front. You don’t look to the sides. Don’t look to see what your mates are doing–you don’t need to know that, because if you’re looking to see what they’re doing, then they’ll be looking to see what you’re doing and you’ll all frighten each other in no time. Certainly don’t look behind you. Look to your front. Or, another way that it’s put–the way Gandalf puts it early in the book–’all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’”

So, Rob, again, what does this have to do with writing?

I recently had a conversation with an aspiring author. He figured that, if all went well, he’d write a book in six months, get a publisher in six months, and have it released two years after that. So, he asked me, what did I foresee in the cultural zeitgeist three years from now?


His logic was that his book would be a bestseller if he could only foresee the trends and anticipate what would be HOT HOT HOT in 2014.

Now, this is an extreme example, but lesser examples are so common as to be almost unavoidable in authors’ forums. We may worry that the novel we’re writing is too similar to a novel some other author is writing. Or we may worry that first-person past tense is getting passe and we need to follow the trend toward first-person present tense. Or we may try to jump on the latest literary bandwagon, be it bad-boy vampires, or teenage wizards, or Masonic conspiracies.

Whatever the issue, I think that authors–the majority of whom already have anxiety issues and fragile self-esteem–can be paralyzed with fear as they try to guess what the market will do a few years down the road. It’s understandable–we invest so much into a book that we want it to be perfect, we want it to sell, and we speculate as a way to mitigate risk. The problem (with speculating about writing, as well as speculating about almost everything else) is that even if you could accurately identify trends and follow them, you’ll still just be following others. And you’d waste a lot of time doing it.

So instead of speculating, Look To Your Front. Write what you want to write, write it well, and don’t worry about the things that you can’t possibly control. That’s not a guarantee that your journey will be easy (or even successful), but you’ll be writing on your own terms, true to your own vision, and you won’t be wasting a lot of time and effort second-guessing.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What is Your Nineveh?

First of all, and totally off-topic, can any of you sing “Who’s on the Lord’s Side” without feeling a little bit like a pirate? Every time I hear that song, I keep waiting for the Yo Ho part. In fact I was a little bit surprised to see that the tune didn’t come from an Irish drinking song. Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Sometime between 780 B.C and 760 B.C., Jonah, a prophet from Galilee, was commanded by God to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, and preach to the Ninevites. At this time, Assyria was a powerful, evil nation and Israel’s most dreaded enemy. Jonah was told to warn the Ninevites to repent or they would suffer the consequences of their wickedness.

Instead of going to Nineveh, Jonah for Tarshish, Spain. It is unclear whether his motives were fear or revenge or both. The people of Israel hated the Assyrians who had committed terrible atrocities against them. Jonah was probably frightened of the Assyrians and might have liked to see God punish them.

You know the rest of the story. While sailing to Tarshish, Jonah’s boat was caught in a terrible storm. Realizing the storm was his fault, Jonah told the sailors to toss him overboard. While in the ocean, he was swallowed by a large fish, or whale. Ultimately he ended up in Nineveh, where he preached repentance. The people listened to him, and he was successful in his mission.

Almost exactly a year ago, I faced one of my Ninevehs. In meeting with Chris Schoebinger, from Shadow Mountain, I asked what book he would ask for if he could have any book placed on his desk. I was hoping for something along the lines of my other middle grade fantasies. What he asked for was a young adult fantasy with excitement and adventure that was clearly LDS from the title, to the cover, to the story.

To be completely honest, this was just about the last thing I wanted to hear. I had no idea how to write such a book, and the idea didn’t appeal to me. I returned home and told my wife that was the last thing I wanted to write. Even when I came up with an idea—a story of a boy returning to the time of Joseph Smith with special powers—I didn’t want to write it. I wasn’t sure I could do justice to one of the most incredible events and people of all time.

Like Jonah, I went out of my way to avoid writing the book. I found other things to work on. I didn’t do the research I knew I needed. It wasn’t until Chris began to put real pressure on me that I finally gave in and began writing. But a funny thing happened. I started enjoying the book. Instead of being intimidated by writing about people like Joseph and Hyrum Smith, I loved it. It was both inspiring and motivating to find great quotes I’d never read before—to introduce a man that could teach eternal concepts one moment and play stickball with the kids the next.

The story I didn’t want to write became one of my favorite projects. It’s funny how the things we dread the most can become the things that benefit us the most. So, what are your personal Ninevehs? What did you you dread the most, only to be glad you did?

And speaking of The Fourth Nephite, the book doesn’t come out until August. But I’ve been given a box of Advance Reader Copies for review. If you have a blog and would like to get a review copy, just post a comment and e-mail me your mailing address. I’ll give away twenty review copies to the first twenty people who ask for a copy.

I’ll also give away two copies to people who don’t do reviews. Again, just comment, letting me know that you’d like a copy but don’t do reviews and I’ll draw two names.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Return from Yellowstone/Thermopolis/Provo

Just walked in the door after nine days, three states, four children, four plane rides, 34 hours car travel and I am done.

I'll be posting next week. I'm pretty sure I've earned this day of rest.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Screenwriting is not for Sissies

by Kerry Blair

As sorry as I tend to feel for myself when I leave the oncologist's office, I usually feel just a little bit sorrier for him.

The distinguished older gentleman is a native of India. After almost four decades in the U.S., he still speaks with a heavy accent. I don't feel sorry for him over that, of course; it's too charming.

Since he owns both cancer clinics in the county, I'd bet he trades in his sports car every 200 miles, or whenever it needs washing, whichever comes first. No pity from me there.

I could feel a little sympathy for how he spends his days. Next to the work Mother Theresa did in his homeland, I doubt there's a much more emotionally draining career on the planet. For sure there's nothing I'd like less than tending cancer patients all day, every day. I'm often the healthiest person at the clinic and I'm . . . um . . . sick. The only reason I don't empathize more with his career choice is because I strongly believe the aforementioned earthly perks are the least of that man's rewards. He's such a genuinely good and kind person that he's almost reached Mother Theresa status on a local level. Moreover, no mortal could give service as he does without pretty much ensuring (insuring? both?) an eternal abode in the nicest neighborhood of the After Here.

So, why do I feel sorry for the guy? Mostly because I tend to give him such a hard time . . . and take more satisfaction in it than I really should.

I began seeing him just a few months ago when our insurance provider changed. At our first meeting I told him I didn't think I wanted any further treatment. I'd already slipped from stage one to stage two despite miserable chemotherapy. I didn't see the point in torturing myself and my family through stage three and into four, just to die anyway. What I wanted from him was an easy, painless express route. He clearly didn't understand my feelings, so I offered him my go-to analogy.

As many of you know, I have long had a compelling (and probably unhealthy) fascination with disaster movies. Like romances that sell fifty-for-a-dollar at thrift stores, most disaster flicks share a formulaic plotline. During the opening credits, there are millions of characters milling around. (Billions if the entire earth is in peril.) You don't "meet" that many, of course. You're just expected to know they're out there, waiting to die when the disaster hits L.A. . . . or New York . . . or Tokyo . . . or wherever. You are instead introduced to a core group of scientists and hangers-on -- some good, some not-so-much -- who go about their generally mundane lives until the meteor falls, the volcano erupts, the poles shift, the virus escapes the lab, or Godzilla wades out of the Atlantic. At that point, hundreds (or thousands or millions) of "extras" die almost immediately while our heroes perform whatever ridiculously superhuman stunts it takes to get them through to Act II.

I know I don't have to stretch the analogy out for you, but the doctor looked at me like I was a newly-mutated mold in a dirty petrie dish. I quickly explained that while I'd love to be a cancer survivor, I couldn't help but wonder: "What if I'm not the protagonist? What if I'm a loveable-but-dispensable sidekick who survives six or eight super-close calls in Acts I and II, only to bite the big one in Act III when the emotional toll on the audience is the greatest? I mean, every single time I watch somebody's skin start to peel off from radiation sickness I think, 'I bet you wish you'd been one of the lucky ones at Ground Zero.'"

Once the good doctor more or less grasped my underlying paranoia he said, "But don't you want to see your children get married? Your grandchildren grow up?"

Even discounting the probability that, at the rate my children are going, I'm going to have to live well into my hundreds and/or undergo cryogenics to see even one grandchild enter mortality, I was ready with a carefully-considered response. "There is no doubt in my mind I will see everything," I told him. "The question is if they will be able to see me seeing it."

He told me kindly that my feelings were very normal--even if my perspective was a little skewed--and scribbled out a prescription for an antidepressant. I took the next round of chemo.

While the aforementioned medication has likely made me easier to live with, it hasn't done much to change my point of view.

Today (Thursday) we discussed a third round of chemotherapy. I didn't get better as a result of the second round, but I didn't get any worse, either. It turns out that when doctors play chess with ovarian cancer, they consider a draw in the same league as major victory. He even had the temerity to use the word "miracle" in conjunction with the outcome. (A miracle, of course, is something else entirely; a remarkable thing I have not yet ruled out, especially considering the prayer power of my team.) Unfortunately, I am now sloshing around with four to six liters of possibly-cancerous fluid in an otherwise-unused body cavity. It looks like I'm about to give birth to a healthy infant rhino. Since I "celebrated" my fiftieth birthday a couple of years ago, I am considering shopping for a maternity dress to wear to church tomorrow--just to see how many people at the store today and in the chapel tomorrow faint dead away.

I would be in the hospital now having the fluid drained except for a lingering staph infection. The doctor told me he'd schedule the procedure immediately except that the most likely result would be a virulent infection they probably couldn't control.

"Ooh! Let's do it!" I exclaimed. "You know I've been looking for a way to get out of dying from cancer!"

After a long sigh and quick count of all the ceiling tiles, the doctor suggested it might not hurt to double up on that antidepressant.

Except I'm not depressed. Really I'm not! At least I'm not today. (Depression and cancer go together like peanut butter and jelly.) In fact, as I said, I feel sorrier for my doctor than I do for myself. I obsess over the stupidest things and, worse, feel compelled to fill every lapse in dialogue with words that are almost always more awkward than any silence.

But, despite my many and glaring shortcomings, I honestly do know that while life seems to be all improv, there remains an infinitely gifted and infallible Screenwriter at the keyboard. Despite all my ad libbing, I am totally content to keep turning pages -- leaving the final scripting to Him.

Besides, I've already lived through a lot, so who knows? Maybe I'll turn out to be the star of this thing, after all!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vomit Will Motivate You

by Julie Coulter Bellon

This blog is going to have some descriptions that may be disturbing/disgusting to some. This is your fair warning. Continue at your own risk.

Father’s Day didn’t go very well at our house. We traveled to our in-laws’ to wish my father-in-law a happy Father’s Day and have brownie sundaes. On the way home, one of our sons mentioned that his stomach wasn’t feeling well. I think I have mentioned on this blog before that one of my sons is afflicted with carsickness—and since it was the same son, I thought that if he just looked out the window and didn’t think about it, he would be fine. (This trick has worked in the past). Unfortunately, we’d only gone about five blocks when we heard the dreaded vomiting/choking sound from the back seat, and then we heard the liquid sloshing about as he vomited everywhere---on himself, his brother in front of him, the car seat, just everywhere. As the stench filled the car, my other five children, especially my oldest daughter, were begging my husband to pull over and pull over quickly. You see, my daughter has a weak stomach, and hearing or seeing someone else vomit makes her vomit, so needless to say she needed to get out of the car. Fast. My husband finally pulled over and she got out just in time to vomit all over the curb. The other kids piled out quickly, mostly groaning and saying how gross it was and that they never wanted to sit by my carsick son ever again. And of course, since I am just barely out of the morning sickness part of my pregnancy, my own stomach was a little sensitive and I could feel the bile rising at seeing and smelling what was in and out of my car. My husband was in the driver’s seat laughing a bit as he said, “it’s sort of like watching a Chinese fire drill of puking people.” I guess seeing us all pile out and vomit would be sort of funny in a gross sort of way.

How does this incident relate to writing you ask? My topic today is motivation. You see, just one action by my son motivated our entire family to action. Some copied his action, some thought about copying his action, and others just commented on the action. But we were all motivated in some way. So it is with writing.

There are several levels of motivation for me. Sometimes, when I’m doing something totally unrelated to writing, an idea will come to me and I can write it down and it will turn into a plotline, a character, or an entire book. It’s motivating to have that little seed planted and know you can do something with it, and in that instance I am the motivating action for my writing, like my son was for everyone else.

I also like hearing about my writer friends who are plotting, have a great character quirk come to them, or as they finish their novel, because it motivates me and makes me think I can do it. I can “copy” their action, so to speak, like my daughter did in reaction to my son’s action. I read several blogs each day and follow several writers on twitter because I enjoy the way they approach their writing, not to mention that they have a lot of struggles and successes I can identify with. It’s definitely another way to motivate myself, even if I only think about copying them, because it's still a tiny bit of motivation that can grow to truly giving me a call to action.

Another motivation is receiving feedback on my work. Sometimes feedback motivates me to dig down and fix the flaws right away. But sometimes, when the feedback is long or overwhelming, it’s not quite as motivating to fix right away. Although, I have to say that long and critical comments on my work have often given me ideas for the book that make it stronger, and motivate me to really flex some writing skills and learn even more about my craft. So, for me, feedback is almost always motivating in some way, even if it’s just from those “commenting” (like the entire rest of my family who piled out of the car and weren't vomiting, but were totally grossed out) and me using their comments for motivation.

So, tell me, what motivates you? Are you a self-starter that is the motivating action? Do you get motivation from “copying” or listening to others and think that you can do it? Or, are you getting motivation from comments that others make about your work?

And the most important question of all---do you have any ideas for carsickness cures?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Finish-Line Jitters

by Stephanie Black

After my editor sent me the typeset copy of Cold as Ice so I could give it one final read-through to spot any mistakes, he remarked that wasn’t it a great feeling to be so near the finish line? I responded that it was both great and scary—getting to the point where the book was how it was and I couldn’t change things anymore. That’s a good thing, he said, and I confessed to being a bit neurotic, which I’m sure came as no surprise to him.

I’m such a rewriter that it can be hard for me to let go of a book. Should I have made a change there? Does everything work? Wait, I want to add something to that final scene! Stop the press! (Haven't you always wanted to say that?) This time, I feel like I was even more stressed than usual, and after I turned in my list of changes, I started worrying about things I wished I’d added or tweaked. Urrghh! Last-minute panic attack!

Maybe part of the reason for the finish-line panic and the desire to do more tweaking is that the final part of the publication process happened very quickly. I hadn’t worked on the book since I turned it in last fall, so it’s not as though I was sick of working with it or had gone through it a bazillion times recently (and I can go through a manuscript a lot of times without getting sick of it—like I said, I’m a rewriter). Then I got the edits, went through those and made my changes, got the typeset, proofed that, sent in my final corrections, and off to press it went, all in the course of three weeks. If I’d had more time, I would have loved to keep fiddling with it, so it’s probably good I didn’t have more time because I kind of need to, you know, finish getting ready for girls camp (“Sorry, counselors, we never finished the schedule because I had to keep tweaking my manuscript. Just wing it this year, 'kay?")

Another part of the panic is, of course, the usual writer’s fear—what will people think of it? Inevitably, someone out there isn’t going to like my work. I know that. What will I get criticized for this time? I don’t know, but someone will find something. It is a bit scary pouring yourself into writing a book and putting it out there for comment. When I mentioned my finish-line angst to a group of writer friends, I was heartened to find out that I am far from alone in getting nervous at the end. And now that the book is off to press and I CAN’T change anything, no matter what, I’m feeling a lot calmer. In fact--I'm excited! Six more weeks and the book will be out!!

Here's a link to my website where I posted the backliner blurb. I'll try to get the first chapter up there before too long, but it won't happen today--the formatting is going to take me while.

Little-known fact about Cold as Ice: those amazing lips on the cover image? They’re mine.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I Would Have Preferred to Remain Ignorant

by Rob Wells

In recent days I've watched two documentaries that have totally screwed up my life. I feel like all my life I've been merrily running stop signs, blissfully ignorant that I was running over puppies--puppies that give you cancer when they die. (I'm not so good with the analogies.)

The first documentary I watched was Food, Inc., a rather damning look at the food industry. It's not a PETA-style video where they focus on the plight of animals--those sad, delicious animals--but instead this one talks about how the mass industrialization of the food industry is unhealthy, harmful to the environment, and possibly corrupt.

None of this came as an enormous shock to me; I briefly worked for ConAgra, a massive food conglomerate that was mentioned in the show. As such I've read lots and lots of studies about food additives and growing methods. And, for the most part, I was fine with it. There's nothing particularly shocking in the statement: "Guess what! Food can make you fat/sick!" However, I was rather upset by the blatant corruption in the system: the former beef lobbyists who now run the FDA and the crazy laws that prohibit anyone from criticizing the food industry. (WHAT?)

Shortly after watching Food, Inc. I saw a related documentary, Super-Size Me, in which a healthy person eats only McDonald's food, three meals a day, for a month. It was fun to watch as he got sicker and sicker, gaining 25 pounds in 30 days. It was fun to watch as he puked trying to eat a Super-Sized double quarterpounder meal (because he used to eat healthily and couldn't handle the quantity of food). And it was embarrassing to think that I could fairly easily eat a super-sized double quarterpounder meal, because I'm a fatty.

Anyway, I imagine that I could have drowned my concerns in a pile of cheese fries, but I made the mistake of watching these shows with my wife, and we are now Living Healthy. In fact, just yesterday I bought couscous (if you can imagine) from Whole Foods (if you can imagine). (This was shortly after I bought Diet Coke at the regular grocery store.)

(Amusing note: my one major business success when I was at ConAgra was that I studied and recommended the discontinuing of Orville Redenbacher's Organic Kernels. So... sorry about that, Whole Foods.)

I don't imagine that my diet is going to change dramatically. I'll eat out less, but I'm already eating out less (because the doctor hates me). More importantly, we're going to try to ween our kids off of McDonalds. We hardly ever go there as it is, but it's their favorite place on earth, surpassing church and Disneyland. Whenever we drive past they immediately announce they're hungry.

It's not that I don't like healthy food. I quite like it. It's just that I also like convenience, and healthy food is a pain in the neck. Subway (the only moderately healthy fast food) is lousy and all of their sandwiches taste the same. And salads at fast food places are, well, salads, and no amount of sad animals in confined spaces are going to make me like salads (unless they--the salads, not the animals--are sprinkled with bacon, which ruins the whole point).

I mentioned my predicament on Twitter and was immediately followed by a Vegan awareness campaign. I read their literature, and it appears that vegans don't eat honey because it's mean to bees. But I say that bees deserve whatever treatment they get. Maybe that should be my new food philosophy: only eat animals that are mean. Bees, lions, badgers, weasels.

I believe I'm going to start a new restaurant.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Have You Arrived?

Recently I was in an airport. Okay, recently I am always in airports. But anyway, I was in an airport looking up at the board to see what gate my flight was leaving from. Two guys stopped beside me and began looking for their flight. They became visibly concerned when they couldn’t find their flight anywhere on the board.

“Do you think it’s been canceled?” the first guy asked, searching the display.

“It would still be listed even it was canceled,” the second guys said. They went back and forth for several minutes before realizing they were looking at arrivals instead of departures.

“That’s stupid.” The first guy shook his head. “Why do they even list arrivals inside security? It’s not like anyone waiting to pick someone up can get this far.”

The other guy thought for a minute, and said, “I guess they want you to be able to see if you’ve arrived.”

I thought about the comments all the way to my next destination—both why the airport lists arrivals inside security, and the second guy’s suggestion about seeing if you’ve arrived.

How many of us hope we will “arrive” one day? And wouldn’t it be nice to see our name in lights on a big board just so we know for sure that we have arrived? What does it mean to arrive? When I was in high school I was sure graduation meant I had arrived. Or marriage. Or buying a house. Or having kids.

Each time I thought I had arrived, I discovered there was still further to go. In the writing world we often think getting published will mean we’ve arrived. I’ve heard authors say that since they’ve published x number of books, they no longer need editing, or writing classes, or critique groups.

Good friend, great person, wonderful writer, and NY Times bestseller, Aprilynne Pike had an interesting take on this in a recent class she taught. She talked about how at different stages in her writing career she thought she was finally “all that,” only to be brought back to Earth shortly thereafter.

She suggested that a writer should never feel that they know everything or that they stink to high heavens. A writer should have the attitude of (and I am paraphrasing here) I am good enough to get published but there is more I can learn.

I’ve tried to raise my children with the confidence to believe in themselves. I firmly believe that many of the biggest mistakes kids (and adults) make are the result of trying to impress others because they don’t believe in themselves enough to trust their own judgment. At the same time, we need to constantly remind ourselves that no matter how far we’ve come or what we’ve accomplished, there is always so much more we can learn. I think that’s true in writing and equally as true in life.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Things as They Really are Around Here

Once upon a time . . .

The sad truth is I haven’t written a blog in so long I don’t remember how to start and “once upon a time” is the only sort of beginning that comes to mind.

So . . . once upon a time I showed up at the Frog Blog and said, “Hey, I don’t know much about writing in general, and nothing at all about blogging in particular, but I’ve committed to hang out around here every Friday. Please come talk to me! I’ll probably never contribute much that’s meaningful, but maybe you will.”

You did! (come to talk) and you did! (contribute meaningfully). In fact, many of you have shared your hopes and dreams and plans and frustrations to the extent that I feel I know you better than I do some of my next-door neighbors. (Forgive me, Elder Bednar, I have sinned.*)

That was the beginning of the story. My particular plot twist involved a curse (cancer) and the lack of moral fortitude to do much about it besides retreat to the nearest cave and feel sorry for myself. So, while some of you kept coming week after week, I repeatedly stood you up – and the Frog disappeared entirely. For my part, I’m sorry. (Not to mention embarrassed and maybe even a little mortified.) I saw in Wednesday’s comment trail that it might be too late to ask some of you for another chance, but could I at least beg forgiveness? Please? It would help me sleep better at night. And anybody else who still wanders by from time to time . . . well . . . want to talk? I do! And I’ll show up from now on. (If only with weak excuses or fabulous guests.) I promise.


*If I’m going to refer to Elder Bedner up there, I figure I ought to explain down here. This month’s Ensign contains the text of a CES Fireside the apostle gave at BYU-I in May of last year. “Things as They Really Are” addresses—among other deeply significant life lessons—the danger of disconnecting physically (and, by association, spiritually) when spending too much unproductive time online.

He said, “. . . important opportunities are missed for developing and improving interpersonal skills, for laughing and crying together, and for creating a rich and enduring bond of emotional intimacy.” He talks about how important it is to “feel the warmth of a tender hug . . . or to see the sincerity in the eyes of another person as testimony is shared—all of these things experienced as they really are through the instrument of our physical body . . .”

Let me be among the first to add a hearty, heartfelt “Amen!” That said, many of the relationships I have developed through this blog are surely as rich and enduring as the friendships I have with people I lay eyes upon every few days. I don’t believe you always have to look into a person’s eyes to see into their heart. And I don’t think Elder Bednar believes you do either, despite the “sinning” quip. His criteria for meaningful use of technology? 1) Sites that invite the companionship of the Holy Ghost and 2) communication that enlarges one’s capacity “to live, to love, and to serve.”

As Alison Palmer points out in a terrific sidebar article a dozen pages later in the same issue, the Internet can be a life preserver for those of us who have taken up residence in caves. Today I truly feel the need to thank each of you for helping me live and love and feel the Spirit. I hope to take Alison’s advice to heart and begin to better serve in any way I can.

Come back next week to check on my progress, okay? I miss you!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Hobby Writer vs. The Career Writer

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I was asked recently how I find time to write and if I felt I was a hobby writer or a career writer. These were some tough questions for me. Especially because lately, my time to write has become very scarce. As a mother of a large family, my first and foremost responsibility is to my children. And things are very busy right now, and on top of everything else I am expecting which adds a whole new dimension to my mothering skills (I won’t say whether it’s a good or bad dimension. I’ll leave that up to your own conclusion.) So my writing time is limited and my writing groove is there some days and gone the others. I do try to find time to write a little every day, whether it’s working on my manuscript or writing in my journal, but there are days where it just doesn’t happen. Sometimes I feel a bit of envy for my writing friends who talk about the thousands of words they’ve written that day, because I can’t remember the last time I actually could say at the end of the day I’d written thousands of words, but I have to remind myself that that time in my life will come, it’s just not right now. But does that make me only a hobby writer?

That’s a question I’ve asked myself several times over the last week. I write in snatches and on days when I can. I don’t write every day. Some days all I can write is a paragraph or two. But, I’ve written and had six books published in the last six years. Do my publishing credentials prove that I’m not a hobby writer? What exactly makes a career writer? Someone who does it full time every day? Or someone who produces a product consistently?

I guess I look at myself as a cross between a hobby writer and a career writer. I don’t think of myself as a hobby writer because somehow that seems wrong to me. A hobby implies (to me) that I don’t really take it seriously, and just do it for fun. Writing is more than that to me. I think it is a talent, something I want to develop, something I enjoy doing, that brings a sense of balance and well-being to my world. I take it seriously because I’ve worked hard to produce something that is suitable to share with others, that they pay money for, and that brings me a sense of happiness when I interact with those people who know my work. I do look at it as my career that I’m carving out, but since I’m a slow (er) and yet a steady writer who doesn’t do it for a full time (or even part time) job at this point, I don’t really think I can say I’m a career writer. I’m just sort of in between.

But does being a career writer or a hobby writer come down to how much time you have? I have heard several suggestions over the years for getting in more writing time, like getting up early, or writing late at night. But I don’t think that that is truly the definition of each kind of writer and I don’t think my particular problem is finding more time to write. I think that at my phase in life, I have to find the balance between my mothering role and my role as an individual. Writing is very important to me. My children are very important to me, more important than anything else. I know that it has been good for them to see me working on a talent, developing something that is uniquely me and going for my dreams. But at the same time, my children are only in my home for a small moment and I don’t ever want them to look back and say, my mom was on the computer the whole time I was growing up. Or, my mom didn’t have time for me, or my mom got up early to write or stayed up late and was cranky my entire childhood. So, for now, I’ve accepted the fact that I’m a slow(er) and steady writer, constantly balancing my time with children and writing. And that’s okay. I will just say I am neither a hobby writer or a career writer. I’m a mom writer.

And for me, there’s nothing better.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I know . . . this is the second Wednesday in a row I've missed (though, since I'm posting something, technically this counts, right?). But I'm just popping up to say I'm not going to blog . . . been gone all day, the house is messy, my daughter leaves for Trek tomorrow morning and we haven't finished her skirt, I just got the final proof for Cold as Ice, and then there's girls camp stuff. Nope, I don't think I'll be posting a real blog until after girls camp. I'm really looking forward to taking a deep breath and relaxing after girls camp is over.

I hope everyone is having a great summer and enjoying lots of good reading. Drop a comment in the comment trail and tell me what great new fiction you've read so far this summer. Or if you're an author and have a book coming out soon, tell us about it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

On Routine

So, remember how a virus ate my computer? How my husband cleaned it and everything was okay (after hours and hours spent doing so)?

Two weeks ago the hard drive crashed. We don't have the funds to fix it right now (will have to save for it) so my computer is dead (which is also my excuse for not posting the last couple of weeks, and as far as excuses go, I think it's a pretty good one).

My husband being the computer guy that he is, we do have four computers in our "computer room" (it was supposed to be a dining room, but instead it's where all our techie stuff goes). He got another one outfitted for me and got it connected to the internet, but it feels wrong. I don't like typing here and it's not set up right and I don't have all the programs I need, which makes the whole experience not enjoyable.

Regardless of which computer I get on, there's just not quite the same feel as my computer. I didn't realize that I was such a creature of habit when it came to this - but I don't really have many opportunities to be on other machines (I've never had a need for it). My husband offered to let me use his laptop, but that didn't work out too well for me either.

Which got me wondering about what other writers prefer - do you use a regular desktop computer or a laptop for writing? Or another type of device?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Boy or Girl?

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Well, I just got home from my ultrasound appointment. My husband and children filed into the room, and the ultrasound lady (sonographer?) said, “Are these all your children?” I nodded and she said, “so this is number eight? You’re nuts.” (I’m used to hearing this, so I just laughed and agreed.) We started the ultrasound and the kids were getting restless, wondering when we were going to get to the “good part.” The ultrasound lady smiled and said she could just get to that part first if that’s what everyone was waiting for. So, after some maneuvering, the lady finally announced that we are having . . .

A BOY!!!

And in an odd twist of fate, my oldest daughter will have one older brother and five younger brothers, and my youngest daughter will have one younger brother and five older brothers. Which is kind of cool actually.

So we are very excited, but now my attention has turned to what we are going to name this little boy because I think I’ve definitely used up all the good “family” names already. This could be tough. But it is so exciting!

And so I put everyone who guessed a boy in a hat, and my youngest son drew a name and the winner is . . .

Heather Feather!

So, Heather, you can send me your mailing information to my email and I will send you an autographed book of your choice whether it’s All’s Fair or Dangerous Connections.

Thank you to everyone for playing. It was fun and I am totally thrilled to share this moment with all of you.

Friday, June 04, 2010

A Four-Letter Word

Guest Blog by Cheri Crane

There are several four-letter words in the English vocabulary. Some of those are considered inappropriate. ;) The four-letter word I'm thinking of today is on the other end of the spectrum: HOPE.A couple of years ago, we did a fun craft at girls camp and we each made a handy tote bag, utilizing inspiring quotes, bright ribbon, and paints. My bag proudly shares this saying: "With hope, each of us can live a life with peace, faith, and love."

It can be difficult to cling to hope when challenges descend, especially when some trials extend through several years. Those are the moments when we sometimes wonder if our prayers are being heard. What I've been learning lately is that our prayers are always heard, but they are often answered in ways we don't envision. And always, our Father, who sees the entire picture, helps us through, despite our fearing doubts.Recently we've witnessed some miraculous events in our family. Without divulging details, may it suffice to say that a couple of the challenges have been heart-wrenching. There were days when we wondered if we would survive. And yet we did, sometimes by taking life one day at a time.

When walking a darkened path, it is scary to take a leap of faith. To hope for brighter days whenthere is no apparent light. And yet it is during these murky moments when we can prove our mettle. And as the scriptures state, it is often after the trial of our faith that we gain the answers we seek.
So today I am grateful for the knowledge that even when all seems lost, we are not alone. I am overwhelmed by the tender mercies that are extended daily from heaven, especially when we're drowning in dark despair. Though the path ahead may often seem unclear, guidance, comfort, and the peace of heaven can be ours when we use hope as our shield against life's storms.

Visit Cheri's website HERE. Read more of her blogs HERE and HERE.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Spoiling the Surprise (and a Contest!)

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I was talking to my friend a few days ago about a book I was reading and how I couldn’t put it down until I’d seen how the author was going to end it. I’m usually a “big gulp” sort of reader, in that if the book is really good, I read it in one big gulp so I can see how it ends. My friend is a piece reader, she reads it slowly, a chapter a night. I asked her how she ever had the patience to do that and not want to rush to the end. She smiled and said, “well, I read the end first.”

That flabbergasted me. In my mind, she had ruined the whole surprise of the book by reading the end first. But that’s how she could go through it slowly, because she was just reading the events that would lead up to the ending. She already knew how it ended so she wasn’t in a rush to see. She claimed it was easier to savor it that way.

For me, I like to go along with the characters, try to figure out the mystery, or be on the rollercoaster of suspenseful surprises that lead to the end. I want to experience the unknown with the known, and that means that I don’t read the end first. Of course, I do sometimes skim if the author is prone to over-describe or over-conversationalize, but that doesn’t happen very often. I’m along for the ride. And I’m always sad when it’s over.

However, as those who know me, know, I don’t have a lot of patience for surprises in any other realm than reading. My husband doesn’t even put out my Christmas gifts until Christmas Eve because I can’t leave them alone. The presents call to me, wanting me to open them and to know what’s inside. No surprises for this girl. And it’s the same when I’m having a baby. Out of the seven children that I have, I was only surprised with one of them and that was incredibly hard for me to do. I usually find out the gender beforehand, which, in some people’s mind spoils the surprise I’m sure, but for me I get to feel more prepared and ready for the baby that’s about to come.

With my current pregnancy, we are going to find out the gender a week from today, (if the baby cooperates, of course). Since I haven’t done a fun contest in a while, I thought I would do one today. In the comment trail, if you list your guess as to what the baby will be, a boy or a girl, I will enter all the correct guesses in a drawing for a copy of either All’s Fair or Dangerous Connections, your choice and announce the gender and winner next week. (And if you’re going by odds, I currently have five sons and two daughters.)

Oh, and if you’re so inclined, tell me whether you’re a reader who reads the end first or not. I’m curious to see if there are a lot of readers who are like me or like my friend. I think most people read like me, and read to experience the book. But, on the other hand, I also like to spoil the surprise in other areas of my life so maybe I’m more like my friend than I think. What about you?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

My Cover is Here!

Here is the cover for my upcoming suspense novel, Cold as Ice.

I think the designer did a fantastic job. Cold as Ice will be released in August. I'm excited!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

I Just Read a Book and I Don't Know What To Think

by Robison Wells

By amazing coincidence, Jeff's post yesterday brought up some issues I've been thinking about today. He wrote (about the musical "Next To Normal"):

"When I walked out of the play, my boss asked if I liked it. I told him that I’m not sure you can really say you 'liked' a play like that. I was moved by it. I was enthralled by it. I bought the soundtrack and can’t stop humming 'Superboy and the Invisible Girl.' But did I like it? I’m not sure."

Last night as I was going to bed I picked up a small paperback that had come from my publisher as part of a gift package. It was a book they'd released in 2006, and I'd heard nothing about the title or the author.

Earlier in the day I'd been showing a few books to my brother and held this one up: "I'm definitely the target market for this one," I'd said sarcastically. The book is Boy Heaven, by Laura Kasischke, and the cheerful cover shows a teenage girl beneath a cursive title. This looks like a girly book.

My brother read the back:

They planned on a joyride in a convertible on a hot summer day. They planned on skinny-dipping in a beautiful, secluded lake. They planned on making it back to cheerleading camp before anyone noticed they were gone.

The three girls were seventeen, with perfect tans, perfect bodies, and the perfect day. But then Kristy Sweetland smiled . . . at the wrong time . . . in the wrong place . . . at the wrong boys.

And he immediately said, "That's the premise of every slasher movie, ever."

For new readers of mine, I have a nagging rib problem that hurts a lot and that makes it difficult to sleep, so lately I've been staying up late reading. Even though this book didn't look like anything I was remotely interested in (not liking either girly books or slasher movies), I wasn't really eager to read anything on the pile and this one was the shortest.

I finished it in about two and a half hours. I couldn't stop.

Somehow, in a book that first appeared to be a girly slasher pulp, was a beautifully-written, literary gem. I was thoroughly sucked in as the author (who I later learned is a Guggenheim Fellowship-winning poet and English professor) created some of the most rich, intricate characters I've read in years.

The book wasn't easy to nail down: was it horror? Suspense? A character study? I'm not sure. It was bookended in a bizarre way that I still don't think I understand. It was painful and horrible and enlightening and funny all at the same time.

And when I finally finished it and turned off the light I lay there for a long time thinking about it, and I thought about it on the drive to work today, and I thought about it while I was eating lunch.

But do I like it?

It was amazing.

But did I like it?

I don't know. I'm glad I read it. It's not in my top-ten list, and I don't think I want to read it again anytime soon, but I'd defend it vehemently against anyone who criticized it.

I wonder what that says about popular culture--and me--that a book that was probably more thought-provoking than most, that was written more beautifully and skillfully than most, still manages to be on my "I'm not sure what to do with this" list. Is it a matter of genre? Was it just too foreign to me to be able to easily process? Am I too accustomed to standard plotting and character arcs that, although I could recognize the quality, I couldn't couldn't come to love it?

I don't know. But I'm sure I'm going to keep thinking about it.

Have any of you read it? Or read something that brought up similar thoughts?

(FYI: the book contains some strong language and sexual references.)