Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I Need Your Opinion

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I have some wonderful news. Great news. Stupendous news. Well, okay, not stupendous, but still pretty good.

I have been working with Encore Editions to put my backlist on Kindle, Nook, etc. and my first book, Through Love’s Trials, is now available here (for Nook, Kindle, and any other ereader) and here (Amazon, Kindle readers). I love the new cover and I even still love the story. But that’s not the news.

My second book, On the Edge, is about to be available on both of those same sites, but here’s the thing, my cover designer (love her!) has designed two wonderful covers and I can’t decide which one I love the best. So, because I couldn't decide, I sent it out to ten of my most trusted author friends, and ten of my extended family members. And, you guessed it, ten people liked the first cover and ten liked the second. It was dead even!

So I still want some input.

If you are so inclined, I would like you read the backliner below, look at both covers, and tell me which one you like the best and why. After the final cover is chosen, wouldn’t it be fun to put everyone who voted for the chosen cover into a drawing for a copy of On the Edge? I think so.

So here’s the backliner:

Dylan Campbell, a Canadian Security Intelligence Service agent, is recovering from a gunshot wound and looking for a new direction in his life. Armed with his newly found testimony in the LDS Church, he soon embarks on a routine fact-finding mission to Africa.

While there he befriends Elizabeth Spencer, a beautiful American working to ease the suffering in Uganda. Their relationship is just beginning to deepen when Dylan discovers that a biological weapon has been manufactured in the private hospital where Elizabeth works. He realizes the terrorists plan to infect millions of innocent people across Canada and the United States.

Dylan must catch up with the terrorists in Greece to stop them from taking the weapon to North America. However, he is captured before he can act, and it takes every ounce of Dylan’s physical and spiritual strength to stay alive.

Can Dylan trust his heart and accept Elizabeth’s offer of help? Will he learn the true identities of his enemies in time to stop the biological weapon from being unleashed?

From the wilds of Africa to the ancient ruins of Greece, this book takes you to the edge of civilization and will keep you on the edge of your seat

Here’s cover #1

Here’s cover #2

I won’t say anything else about them because I don’t want to sway anyone’s opinion, so go ahead and comment and be sure to tell me which one you like best and why.

And if it's dead even again . . . well, maybe I'll just tell the designer to flip a coin. Or have her throw a dart and whatever one it lands on is the winner. Hmmm . . .

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Storymaker Countdown

It's only a week until the LDStorymakers Writers Conference! I'll be super excited as soon as I'm done being freaked out at everything I need to accomplish between now and then. I'll be teaching a class on fiction writing basics, as well as being one of the instructors in a Publication Primer class, which is like an advanced boot camp. I am SO not ready for my classes yet, but I have accomplished one thing--I found a dress for the Whitney gala. My daughter (who just got home from BYU) was my personal shopping assistant, which was very handy. Not only did she help choose a bunch of dresses for me to try on, but she'd put them back on hangers while I tried on the next dress. I found one I really liked (and it was on sale--woot!). And it matches my book cover, in the sense that it's black (okay, that means it matches all my mystery book covers, but it still counts, right?). (No, I really don't choose Whitney clothes on the basis of whether or not they match my covers--that sounds way too hard. I was just happy to find a dress I liked and that wasn't too expensive).

Will you be at Storymakers and/or the Whitney gala this year? What are you you most excited about? Any class or event that you're particularly looking forward to? It's going to be awesome all around, but the thing I'm the most excited about is seeing my writer friends and making new writer friends. So I hope to see you there and meet lots and lots of new people!

(Sorry for another bloglet, but time is marching WAY too fast, and there is not one single thing in my life that I'm currently on top of. I'm behind on Storymaker prep, behind on girls camp prep--even the library books are overdue. Sigh).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter!

We'll be going to church, then we'll have our Easter egg hunt down here in our basement, going upstairs afterward to have one with the grandparents, then driving out to Provo to have yet another hunt and dinner with the in-laws.

How are you spending your Easter Sunday?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Review of Blackberry Crumble

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Well, it’s over. I was able to read enough Whitney finalists to vote in four categories. I’m pretty proud of myself because that’s the most I’ve ever done for the Whitneys. I know I probably won’t be able to read every finalist (because there is one category that has books the size of Bibles!) but I’m feeling really good about how I did this year. I am so interested to hear who won because there were two categories that could easily have a three way tie, there were just that many good fiction novels this year. Of course, I’m most excited for historical, because I get to announce the winner! Yay!

In order to clear my mind after doing all of that Whitney reading, I decided to do some . . . well . . . more reading. I finished Josi Kilpack’s Blackberry Crumble (even reading the title had my mouth watering. Who doesn't love a good blackberry crumble?). For those of you who aren’t familiar with Josi’s Sadie Hofmiller series, this is the fifth book and honestly, I think it’s her best one. I heard about this series from one of my friends who had really liked it, but I wasn’t sure it was going to be my cup of tea. I read Lemon Tart in two days and was immediately hooked. Her characters are so charming, normal, and fun, and the mystery part of it is very well written. In Blackberry Crumble I was completely surprised as to who the killer was. I was totally on the wrong track! It was definitely worth the read. If you haven’t gotten this series yet, you don’t have to start at the beginning, but I recommend that you do, just so you can have the full flavor of the Misadventures of Sleuthing Sadie. And of course, that is sort of punny, because there are yummy recipes included in each book. (Full flavor, recipes, get it?) (I know, I know, groan.)

So here is the backliner for Blackberry Crumble. This book receives a very enthusiastic two thumbs up from me. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest Deseret Book (or surf on over to the Kindle store) and buy this book. You won’t be sorry. (If you don’t believe me, Sharon Haddock gave it a great review in Mormon Times. You can read that here).

The word is out about Sadie Hoffmiller's amateur detective work, but it's not exactly the kind of publicity Sadie wants. In the newest culinary mystery from bestselling author Josi Kilpack, Sadie accepts her first investigation-for-hire and travels to Portland, Oregon, at the request of a woman who has suspicions about her wealthy father's untimely death. Putting her detective skills to the test, Sadie delves into a past business partnership that didn't end well, discovers some unsavory family secrets, and exposes more than a few motives for murder. When the investigation leads to threats against her safety, Sadie pretends to crumble under the pressure. But secretly, she is more determined than ever to uncover answers that seem to be buried in shocking scandal, insatiable appetites, and pure greed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Today is the deadline for submitting Whitney Award ballots. Since I still have a book to finish before I'll be ready to vote, this is going to be a tiny blog, because by gum, I'm going to FINISH THAT BOOK. After getting this far, no way am I going to miss finishing book #35--I want to be able to vote for Best Novel of the Year!

Today's micro-blog is a poll for blog readers (and I'd love it if our lurkers popped up to comment too--it would be fun to get a broad perspective). Will you be voting (or have you already voted) in the 2010 Whitney Awards? If so, how many categories did you vote in? And whether or not you're an Academy voter, did you read any 2010 finalists (here's the list) that really impressed you? Or that were books you might not have picked up otherwise but that you ended up loving? Or that introduced you to authors you hadn't tried before? I'd love to hear any and all thoughts our blog readers have about the Whitney Awards.

Friday, April 15, 2011

'Tis the Season for Reruns

Let's Play a Game!

debuted Friday, March 9, 2007: surely you've forgotten in four years!

by Kerry Blair

It's a gorgeous spring day. (At least it is here in Arizona.) Nobody in their right mind wants to sit at a computer reading a boring blog. (And I know very well you were almost doomed to a very boring blog because I just finished writing/polishing/dumping it.) I mean, come on. If you're stuck at a computer somewhere instead of out frolicking in a dog park with your best friend (your best friend is a dog, I hope) you deserve a little fun.

One of my favorite games (after Clue) is something my son bought called Bestsellers. The game comes with four pads of paper, four pencils, an hour glass that measures three minutes of time, and a stack of cards with faux book covers. Players look at the picture and then have exactly three minutes to begin writing the "bestselling book" to go with the cover picture. When the timer runs out, you must stop writing, no matter if you're in the middle of a paragraph, a sentence, or a word. The players then share what they came up with and vote for the best effort. Winner of that round gets the book cover. The person who collects the most covers by the end of the game is the over-all winner.

Now, since were playing this in cyberspace, you must provide your own paper, pencil (or computer) and hourglass. Otherwise, the rules are the same. Look at the picture below and then take exactly three minutes to write your entry. If this were a book cover, what would the book be about? You can write in any genre, of course, and anything goes -- as long as it goes in three minutes. (You have three lousy minutes, right?)

We'll keep the game open through Thursday and vote for a winner next Friday. Person with the most votes gets a $10 e-gift card to Amazon or B&N -- their choice -- to buy a bestseller of their choice!

Ready? Set? GO!

The Balancing Act

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I gave a presentation at the Ephraim’s Writer’s Conference last Saturday on Finding Time to Write and part of my presentation was having an audience member come up and pretend to walk on a balance beam. I asked them before they started, if they were at the Olympics, in front of the world, and being asked to walk across the beam without falling off, what would be the first thing they would do?

Of course, my volunteer said the first thing she would do, would be to focus. Then she would put one foot in front of the other and slowly move across. She put her arms out, and said that she probably would try not to look down.

I think this is exactly what we have to do as writers, when we’re trying to carve out time for ourselves to write. When we get those precious minutes in front of the computer, we need to focus. We can’t be distracted by Facebook, email, Twitter, or surfing in the name of research. We need to sit there and actually write. Get into your scene or dialogue. Get out your idea book, read the last page you wrote, and then go from there. If you’re like me you have scenes and snippets of dialogue going through your head all the time, and once you get in front of the computer it’s just a matter of getting it all down. But it does require focus.

The second thing is to put one foot in front of the other and slowly move across. Do some writing every day. Plod along. If you write one page a day for a year, you’ll have 365 pages which could be a novel and a half. And, you know, that’s 365 more pages you would have than if you didn’t do any writing at all while you were waiting for that big block of writing time to come. You’re slowly moving across, getting your novel out there, one step at a time.

The next thing she did was to put her arms out. This is important when you’re trying to carve out time for writing. Put your arms out and ask for help. Ask your older children to babysit the kids for half an hour. Have your family cook dinner one evening so you can write. Join a neighborhood coop and trade babysitting. Ask your co-workers to understand if you take your lunch hours at your desk to write instead of socializing. Don’t be afraid to ask for others’ support.

The last thing she did was to not look down (or back) and that is big. Don’t get down on yourself if you miss a day of writing or if you write a scene that has to be deleted later. Writing is a learning process and the more you do it, I believe the better you become. Beating yourself up with regrets isn’t helpful. Just do better today than you did yesterday.

It’s all a balancing act and some days we’re better at it than others. If you fall off, get up and get back on. Slowly make your way, one foot at a time, with your arms out, and with your eyes focused. Don’t look down, look straight ahead, and see the success within your reach.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to Write a Negative Review

I got a Goodreads review the other day that included a mild criticism of one aspect of my book. The review was an excellent example of Nathan Bransford’s “sandwich rule” that he requests people use when critiquing someone’s writing on his blog or forum—a positive comment, followed by “very polite constructive feedback,” followed by a positive comment. This particular piece of criticism was specific and thought-provoking, something for me to consider while writing subsequent books. I may or may not end up changing anything because of it, but it was an insightful observation and worth pondering. And I appreciate the way the reviewer presented it, sandwiched between two positive comments.

When someone reviews a book, usually they’re writing for other readers, not to give the author feedback. But in this day of Goodreads and Google Alerts, there’s a good chance the author will see the review. Should you keep that in mind while writing a review? That’s not a rhetorical question; I’d like to know what you think. Do you think a reviewer should consider that the author might very well read her review—or should that be completely irrelevant? Please feel free to express your opinion in the comment trail. I’ll express my opinion right here (and you’re welcome to disagree with me):

My answer is yes, the reviewer should consider that the author might well read her review. Shocking huh, that an author would feel that way (no, I don’t pretend to be a disinterested party in this discussion). But here’s how I see it: when you’re reviewing a book, you’re reviewing the work of another human being. While you don’t have to like the book or praise it, and you should definitely feel free to give your honest opinion (how helpful is a book review if the reviewer is fudging on what he really thought just to be nice?), I think there are more thoughtful and less thoughtful ways of presenting a negative opinion. And I mean thoughtful in two senses: 1--You really think about what in the book didn’t work for you, as opposed to tossing off the equivalent of an easy “This book was awful.” 2--You consider that another person is involved here who will be affected by what you say and how you say it. Hence, two suggestions:

1-Be specific
2-Be polite

Specific criticisms are far more interesting and helpful (both to readers and authors) than general criticisms.

General criticism: “The characters were flat.”

Okay. Clearly the characters didn’t feel like real people to you, but why? What about them didn’t work?

Specific criticism: “The main character was too good to be true—her perfect beauty and total lack of personality flaws made her seem flat and fake. And the secondary characters had no distinguishing characteristics—I kept forgetting who was who.”

Now the people reading your review know why you felt the way you did. And the author has specific feedback to consider and something to possibly improve on in future novels. The author (and other readers) may or may not agree with your opinion—reactions to fiction are very subjective, and if an author tried to reconcile the differing opinions of every reviewer, her authorial brain would implode. But you’ve given the author something to think about, not just something to cringe over.

General criticism: “This book was boring.”

Specific criticism: “The story developed too slowly. There were several chapters at the beginning of the book where nothing happened to advance the plot.”

General: “This book was poorly written.”

Specific: “Some of the sentences were awkward; I had to read them twice to figure out what they meant.”

General: “The dialogue was unrealistic.”

Specific: “The main character spoke in a stilted, formal way that didn’t ring true. It sounded like he was always making speeches, not having casual conversations.”

Being specific about what in the book didn’t work for you leads to a much stronger review than just general statements about how the book was lousy. It also gets you to stop, think, and analyze.

As far as politeness: yeah, I have a sarcastic streak too. But when you’re writing a review, I recommend resisting the urge to indulge in snarky wit at the author’s expense. “This plot was so corny that the author could pop it and serve it with butter and salt.” “I wanted to run this book through the shredder and use it to make New Year's Eve confetti. At least then I'd get some enjoyment out of it.” You’ve made your point, but you’ve done it in an unnecessarily mocking way. Snarky comments can bring a dash of cruelty instead of candor. Is that really what you’re going for?

Give some thought to Nathan Bransford’s sandwich rule. I’m not saying I think every review has to follow that critique format exactly, but I do think book reviewers should look for ways to include positives with the negatives. Chances are you didn’t think everything about the book was rotten. Was there a plot twist you liked? A character you related to? Some beautiful writing? A well-executed climax? Even if your overall opinion of the book is negative, you can mention some of the positives you found along the way. You can write a negative review of a book without mocking it or slaughtering it.

Be careful if you’re not well versed in the genre you’re reviewing. If you’re not familiar with the conventions of a genre, you might be inclined to criticize something as a flaw when regular readers of the genre would have no problem with it. I think (feel free to disagree) that it doesn’t hurt to offer a disclaimer in this situation: “I’m not usually a romance fan” . . . “I don’t read a lot of LDS fiction” . . . “I haven’t read a mystery in years” . . . something to alert the reader that your review—while valid and worthwhile in expressing your opinion on the book—might not reflect the viewpoint of the majority of fans of that genre. If I were reviewing a romance and offered a criticism like “The outcome was so predictable—I knew right from page one that Joe and Jane would end up together”—the savvy romance reader would stare at me in disbelief; of course you knew that. Having the hero and heroine end up together is a requirement of the genre. On the other hand, if I said, “There were no surprises in this book—at every turning point, I knew exactly what was going to happen next”—that would be a valid criticism, and one that wouldn’t make readers go, um, you don’t read much romance, do you?

To sum up: I hope I’ve made it clear that I do not for one instant think that reviewers shouldn’t write negative reviews of books. But I think there are ways to be both graceful and honest in expressing opinions.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

List of Grievances/Happy Fun Time

Things that are annoying me this week:

I don't know if this is just a Utah thing that I don't understand (like leaving church to go to parties for a baby blessing), but what is the deal with people standing right behind you at the supermarket as you're checking out? Every single time I go to Wal-Mart, as I'm loading up the bags into my cart, the person behind me pushes their cart right up to where the bags are. So I have to wait for them to move in order to use the machine to swipe my credit card. See that little stand next to the machine? That's for me to interact with the cashier. I like to put my purse and my coupons there. Don't stand in front of it, please. I don't get why people do this, but it literally happens every single time I go to the store.

Living in a basement. I remember reading this article last year about a family who took advantage of the recession to downsize their too large home and move into a much smaller one. It had made them unbelievably happy and they loved all their togetherness. Yeah, I'm not that family. Everybody here is starting to go just a tad crazy. It's really hard living in a space this size with no heat (and another subgripe - seriously? It's mid-April, and it's snowing here like it's December. What is up with that? It's 84 degrees back where we used to live. /rant off) and my kids are cramped and not able to go anywhere and run around and be loud and that's hard. We're all getting grouchy about it, and being confined indoors is not helping it at all.

Reviewing other authors. On a bigger level, this isn't a problem. Rob commented on Twitter not too long ago that nobody's ever told him that Konrath and Hocking's books are good. I couldn't dispute that because the one book I'd read of Konrath had a hysterically bad ending (although I do heart the guy and adore his blog - and I'm sure his other books are much better, but he's a Stephen King type writer, and I don't so much like the blood and gore and swearing and horror stuff). The one I read, "The List," had a great premise - people were cloned from famous historical figures and branded with a tattoo, and then they start being killed off. His Abe Lincoln character was fantastic, and the hero's detective partner was probably the best part of the book. I won't spoil it for you if you're interested in reading it, but the ending involves, and I'm not kidding, lobotomized killer clones (which would be a good name for a rock band). I can see why the book didn't get published (he shopped it for a while). Then on to Amanda Hocking - she's a great storyteller. I read her Trylle Trilogy, and got completely sucked in to the first two books. (SPOILER ALERT - STOP READING IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE SPOILED!!!!) But the third one I actually returned to Amazon because I was that angry. She set up one guy to be the hero, and he was the hero and love interest for 2 1/2 books. Then halfway through the third book she decides to make the heroine love somebody else (that we didn't even get introduced to until the end of Book 2). I'm not sure if this was meant to be a twist or to make it more realistic or something, but I was flaming angry. You have to make me pretty upset to get me to return a book (and a digital one at that!). She completely destroyed the series and undermined everything she'd done up to that point by making the heroine flaky and unlikable, having her fall for a guy who was smarmy, immoral and arrogant as opposed to the noble, selfless, moral one.

When it comes down to it, Konrath and Hocking don't care what I think. Hocking just raked in another $2 million and Konrath's made approximately $73,000 over the last six weeks. And being that big, it doesn't matter if I don't like the work that I've read.

But what about the authors that are your peers? I recently read one that I thought was not all that great. And not just in a it's not the genre I prefer or not the story I'd typically like, but as in things like characterization and writing style. How are you supposed to review a book you didn't really like all that much? You're going to hurt someone's feelings.

Things I'm liking this week:

"Breaking In" - This is a new sitcom on Fox that stars Christian Slater (finally in a role that makes full use of his charisma) and Bret Harrison (from "Reaper" - a very, very funny show that never got the audience it should have - witness this YouTube clip that still manages to make me laugh every time I see it: Reaper clip ) Anyway, back to "Breaking In" - it is seriously one of the funniest shows I've watched in a very long time. I laughed out loud through the entire show (not something I typically do). Fox has got it up on their website if you're interested.

Sam and Freddie kiss! You may not watch iCarly. Some of you, like me, may be forced into it as you have children who love this show. So I have to look for something to like (Jerry Trainor being among them - he's hilarious), and yesterday, Sam and Freddie finally kissed! The name of the episode trended worldwide on Twitter for several hours last night. I was sad that 1) I knew this and 2) that I was excited about a Seddie kiss.

Kindle - A-ma-zing. I'm pretty sure I've read more books in the last two weeks than I have in the last year. I love my Kindle. Love, love, love it. I love that there's websites that let you borrow books on your Kindle (like Lendle). I love free e-books (and sometimes publishers put books up for free/cheap for a limited time - last night I picked up Aprilynne Pike's "Wings" for free). I love inexpensive e-books. I don't so much love the prices on the more expensive books, but I do love being able to get a book right when I want it. No more waiting for something to arrive by mail, no more running down to the bookstore because I've read the first book in a series and now must read the rest. All of it right at my fingertips - and I love it! If you don't have an e-reader, I would really recommend getting one. So far, I haven't seen a downside. Other than all the money I'm now spending on books.

Anything this week that you've loved/not loved so much?

Friday, April 08, 2011

Green Acres ~ We Aren't There! (Yet)

by Kerry Blair

I firmly believe that avid readers find real life much more difficult than people who never crack a book and/or charge their e-readers. And if an avid reader is also a writer with a good imagination, well, in the eloquent word of latter-day philosopher Joe Garagiola: “Fergetaboutit.”

While I have long believed the above hypothesis to be true, I recently set out to prove it.

First I must provide a little back story.* One of the first books I loved with all my little avid-reader heart was Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. (While my family’s copy dates from 1903, please know it lay around a couple of generations before I picked it up.) Rebecca preceded both Anne (of Green Gables) and Pollyanna—both in creation and on my reading list—and remains in my view the superior of the three. At the beginning of the book a character says to orphaned Rebecca, “Why you poor little girl!” The eight-year-old replies, “I am not a poor little girl. I am very self-reliant.” She not only repeats those last five words throughout the book (Shirley Temple is adorable saying it in the movie!) she proves it time and again.

I have always identified with Rebecca, the spunky, self-reliant moppet who—despite an incredible talent and the promise of great fame and fortune—pined for an idyllic life on the family farm. (It is me all over, minus the moppet, talent, and guaranteed fame-and-fortune bits, I guess.)

Sunnybrook Farm was only the first of the literature of my childhood that convinced me that farms are idyllic places of blue sky, fresh air, brightly-colored produce stands groaning beneath the harvest, and sweet-tempered farm critters, jovially whinnying, clucking, and purring their way into your heart. No place on earth could be better! (If you harbor any doubt, you have only to remember how anxious Dorothy was to get back home. Clearly, farms are fabulous even in comparison to Oz!)

After decades of pining, imagine my delight when my husband and I moved to our very own farmlette in Dewey, Arizona. I had open land, already developed corrals and pens, a well full of water—and virtually no zoning restrictions of any kind. My vivid imagination, bolstered by years of living vicariously in the country in countless books—went crazy. What couldn’t a very self-reliant girl like me do? Of course, fiction alone isn’t enough to bring about the dream. Knowing that, I started where every Avid Reader does, mortgaging the new family farm to buy every book, magazine and pamphlet ever published on homesteading.

I learned more than I have in any period of time since my senior year in college. For one thing, I learned that gardening is ridiculously simple . . . in February. In an armchair. In front of the fire. It’s when you run outside on the first sunny day in March, shiny new shovel in hand, and discover that concrete is softer and richer than that “loam” you settled onto that truth finally reflects upon your senses. That’s when you begin to discover as well, Avid Reader and Spinner of Stories, that there is a whole lot of fiction within the pages of nonfiction and that life does not imitate art nearly as well as you wish it would.

In stories, geese lay golden eggs and bean sprouts grow like magic. (Even in less fanciful books, seeds started in little pots indoors bring forth rows and rows of summer produce.) In reality, geese eat, honk, poop, and guard their eggs with greater enthusiasm than that guy trying to hold onto Tripoli. Beans of the non-magical variety sprout a quarter of an inch, lose interest in life, and fall over dead. Books suggest sagely the planting of spinach, cabbage and peas “when the daffodils bloom.” Reality comes along and dumps five inches of snow on your three-inch-tall plants. (Not to mention the stupid daffodils.)

I hate to belabor this, but one more caution is worth mention. When absolutely everything you know about living with a horse comes from the pages of Pippi Longstocking, you’re going to need more than a brand new copy of Horses for Dummies to successfully cohabitate with that new 1100-lb “pet” you didn’t think you could live without.

Finally, do not get me started on goats. Not only have I read Heidi, I’ve recently perused almost one thousand pages on the how-tos of caring for goats. I am here to tell you there is not one single line (let alone paragraph) within any of those pages that suggests what you should do when a 65-lb Nubian doe jumps up onto the hood of your mother’s shiny white car and refuses to budge.

So, that’s the Friday Farm Report from Dewey. I haven’t stopped reading, of course. I’ll never stop reading. I have, however, found a few farm-friendly uses for books that the authors probably did not intend. Pleasures of a Handmade Life is exactly the right size to plug a crack in a hen house. And, as it turns out, if you chuck Raising Dairy Goats hard enough at the beastie tap-dancing on the Buick, you do get its attention.

*This, Fellow Writers, is also known as “Info Dump.” Editors hate it. I can only hope that faithful follower Kirk Shaw is too busy editing Covenant superstars Stephanie and Julie today to lurk around a boggy frog blog.

FYI: The goat pictured is not my goat. I could not get my picture to load from my phone, so I borrowed one from the web. (My goat it cuter.) Alarmingly this goat-on-car problem is more wide-spread than I imagined. I think I'll write my own book about goats gone bad and the people who . . . um . . . love (?) them.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Cold Hard Facts & A Writer's Conference

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I am cold. Deathly white, frozen to the bone, cold.

You see, today my son had a track meet. And for some extremely odd reason, track people are like the postal service---come rain, snow, sleet or hail, they will be running and jumping in it. And the track people fully expect their family members to be there to watch.

So there I was on METAL stands, with the wind blowing so hard the flagpole looked like it was bending over, squinting through the rain to watch my son run around the track. I was trying to think warm thoughts to stop the shivering so I didn’t look like I was having a medical emergency, but it wasn’t working. I stood and jumped up and down a little, pretending I was a very enthusiastic parent cheering on her son, but it didn’t help. My legs felt frozen and my old frostbite injury was starting to hurt. I sat back down, but the metal that was warmer than an ice cube a minute ago was now colder than an icicle again and my bottom protested strongly at being pressed against it. Pulling my hood closer around my face, I pulled my hands into my sleeves and glanced longingly at my warm car a few hundred feet away in the parking lot. But then my son ran by, waving and smiling, and my heart melted as I knew it was worth it. Every cold and miserable second was worth it if my son knew that his mom supported him, believed in him, and would be there for him.

Even when it started to hail.

I think writing is sort of like that, in two ways. When you’ve finished a manuscript, you’re sort of like a runner who’s been training and is ready for the race. You start the preliminaries of finding an agent or a publishing house. That is when the wind of insecurity and the rain of rejection will most likely begin. You stand and jump up and down in the face of whatever is thrown at you, sometimes longing for the warm, sweet days of being swept up in your story and not in the race for publication. Then, one day, that agent or publishing house will smile and pick up your manuscript and your heart will melt because in that moment, it was all worth it. Every cold rejection, every harsh critique, every loss will all be made up when your baby wins the race.

Of course, the second way is the most obvious one. Your mom will read your manuscript and tell you how brilliant it is. When you are rejected, she will listen to you cry, and tell you they’re just jealous of your work and obviously not intelligent enough to see your brilliance. She will always be there for you, supporting you, and believing in you, no matter what—through rain, wind, and hail.

I’m still trying to warm myself up from my track experience today. I need a fire or something. Or warm soup. Or to just snuggle into a heated blanket or something. But I’ll be at the computer for a while yet because I’m putting the finishing touches on my presentation that I’ll be giving at the Write Here in Ephraim writing conference this Saturday. We have some amazing classes like Elements of Suspense by Gregg Luke and Book Promotions and Blog Tours by Rachelle Christensen, Becoming an Idea Factory, Children’s Literature, and lots more, all starting at 8:30 a.m. and going until 5:00 p.m. at 105 E. 200 S. in Ephraim, UT. There will also be panels with published authors on the publishing process, and twenty authors to mix and mingle with (listed below), so if you will be in the Ephraim area this Saturday, you have to drop by. I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Goose that Lays the Golden Egg

It would be wonderful to have huge piles of money to use to support every good cause in existence, but I’m not sure even Bill Gates has THAT much money. The vast majority of our donations are unsolicited and go to a source that we know absolutely will use the money wisely. Most of the time, I turn down phone requests from various groups asking for money, but once in a while, I’ll go ahead and donate in response to a phone request. And on an unfortunate occasion, I found that not everyone has quite gotten the message about not killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. You remember that Aesop’s fable, right? The farmer and his wife have a goose that lays a golden egg each day. They get greedy and cut the goose open to get their paws on all the gold they think must be inside, all at once—but they just find normal goose innards, and now their source of gold is dead. Oops.

Case study: I donated to an organization I won’t name—okay, I can’t remember the name, but even if I could, I wouldn’t name it because I’m not out to slam anyone’s group. I’ll just say it seemed like a worthy cause, and I donated. Then I got calls from similar organizations (and, I think, the same organization). And more calls. And MORE calls. AND MORE CALLS. It got ridiculous, and I’m now to the point that I will never donate to a similar organization again. My goose is gone, baby. When I agree to send money to support a worthy cause, that’s what I want to do—support a worthy cause. Not get my information passed along so I can get more and more requests for money. That’s an effective way for an organization to rid itself of a potential golden goose.

Now for the comparison relevant to writers: I’ve been on Twitter for almost a year now. I’m far from being a Twitter expert, but I’ve been there long enough to realize some things that, as a writer, I definitely don’t want to do when I’m tweeting.

If a writer starts following me on Twitter, I always go check out their tweets. If I find that the tweets don’t look too spammy or what all, I’ll follow back. But if that person then proceeds to tweet what amounts to ads for their book EVERY day—or even more frequently than that—I’m going to start getting annoyed. I’ve unfollowed a couple of writers for that reason. They had me as an audience—I was following them; I was willing to see what they had to say—but then they lost me. Goose gone.

I’m not saying writers shouldn’t promote their books on Twitter. Of course they should—let’s be frank; what are we doing there in the first place? As an author, it’s not just about having fun with social media; it’s about networking, connecting with potential readers, spreading the word, letting people know who we are and what we write. But in my humble opinion, you don’t make the desired connections by bombarding people with tweets like: “Want a great spine-tingling mystery? Read Whitney Award finalist COLD AS ICE!” Over and over and over again. I’ve got an audience ready to hear me—but instead of gently cultivating that audience, and trying, through personal, entertaining, interesting tweets, to generate interest in my work, I’m going for all the gold right away: Buy my book! Buy my book! And in doing that, I’m risking losing my golden geese—people who might have become interested in my work because of our Twitter connection.

When a writer talks about his/her book on Twitter, I want to feel like I’m hearing fun, interesting news—not like I’m listening to an advertisement. It’s fun to hear a writer tweet excitedly about a new book being accepted, or a new release, or a great review, or a new cover, or what have you. I do want to hear book news--definitely. I like connecting with authors and finding out about their work. I just want to hear about it in a fun, personal way.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Thanks, Rob, and Book Prices.

First, let me say thanks to all the frog bloggers and to you, our friends. It has been so fun having everyone blogging and reliving the last half-decade. Good times! Good times!

I’ve spent every minute since I got off work moving stuff, putting together stuff, and cleaning stuff in preparation for my oldest son returning from his mission next week. It is definitely an ibuprofen moment.

Which is to say that I haven’t actually done the drawing from all of your wonderful comments, but I absolutely positive will tomorrow morning. I’ll let each author decide what they want to give away, but my giveaway will be from the way back machine. Either Cutting Edge or Into the Fire, which are both long out of print.

Second, I want to wish a truly happy birthday to Rob. I can’t think of a better success through perseverance story, or a more deserving person to have it happen to. Hope your day was great, Rob.

Of course after all the goodwill and resurgence of energy, I couldn’t  skip my first post 5 year blog.  So I thought I’d throw out a question. Recently I read a blog where a person was complaining about people selling their books on-line for $0.99 – $2.99. This author felt it devalued books to sell them that low.

And yet, right now, I can hustle down to the local Red Box and watch a movie that cost millions to make for a paltry $1. Does that devalue the movie? Should you be able to watch a well made movie for a buck?

Now, admittedly, you don’t get to keep the movie. It doesn’t have the same quality or sound of a full theater experience. And you have to wait until after the movie is out of theaters.

Could any of this apply to books. Publishers want to make more money. Many authors have found they make more money by selling a higher quantity at a lower price. But many publishers are still keeping prices higher to keep from cannibalizing their hardback sales.

As a reader, would you be willing to “rent” an e-book for, say two weeks if the price was a buck or two? Would you be willing to wait several months after the hardback was released to pay significantly less? Would you pay more for a copy that had special features—author notes, deleted scenes, short stories?

As an author, I’d be happy to take my million bucks in a million one dollar sales or a hundred thousand ten dollar sales. But if I was only selling a few thousand books, I have to admit I would be pretty ticked if each copy only sold for a buck.

I hear people all the time complain about e-books from big name publishers not being cheap enough. But in the same breath they want the e-book the same day the hardback comes out and with all the bells and whistles. What do you think? Pay more for getting it right away and with special features? Pay less, but after waiting a few months or renting? Or do you want it all? Low price, all the goodies, and immediate release?

And how much lower does the e-book have to be than the print copy to work for you?

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Five and Counting

As the song says, life is what happens to you while you're making other plans, right?

Looking back on five years, I'm sort of amazed at the twists and turns my life has taken.

Five years ago I had two children. The oldest had a diagnosis of autism and I spent most of my time shuttling him back and forth between different therapists (occupational, speech, behavioral). My second was four, and attending preschool. I had one free-and-clear hour in my day, every day, to write. He would enter kindergarten in the fall, and I would suddenly have several hours.

I was excited at the prospect. I started planning out my days for kindergarten and then first grade the year after. Eight hours or so a day just to write? I couldn't even imagine.

It wasn't the plan I wanted. I desperately wanted more children. But it was the reality I had.

Then something miraculous happened, and in 2006 I was pregnant with my daughter. In 2008 I became pregnant with my son.

Two absolute miracles, two babies who came into this world healthy and normal when there had been loss after loss after loss.

I remember a moment where the Spirit warned me that by choosing this path, my writing would suffer. I didn't care. I wouldn't trade my babies for even J.K. Rowling's money. Maybe I'll never be as successful as I might have been. And I'm okay with that.

I can see where that warning from the Spirit came true. Miracles and joy that they are, they're also still babies. All my creativity, all my excitement about writing, everything got sucked out the window. All my time and energy got focused on these new additions to our family. You know this, because you read my blog and you've heard me complain about it for nearly four years now.

But the tide is turning. My daughter's in preschool; my son will join her this fall. I now live near my sisters and sisters-in-law, and I'm already making plans to trade off times with our kids - for them to have a break, for me to have time to write.

I'm excited by new pathways in publishing. I'm excited to find the time to get back to committing words to paper (keystrokes to Word?). I'm excited to see where the next five years will take me.

Friday, April 01, 2011

PS: Blast From the Past!

Anybody remember those fantabulously fun Frog Surprise packs we used to send out?

I didn't think so.

Nevertheless, I simply could not bear to part with my box of all things Froggy, so I moved it here to Dewey where it continues to take up space. Before it becomes any greener (from mold) I want to give it all away! the comment section, tell us your fondest memory from the Frog Years Thus Far. (Make sure there is some contact info somewhere so I can track you down for a snail-mail address.) I'll send out prizes as long as they last -- or until my husband notices how much I'm spending on postage, whichever comes first.

We do so appreciate each and every one of you!

I Blame Jeff

by Kerry Blair

I thought I’d retired from blogging. You thought I’d finally run out of metaphorical Karo syrup . . . or died . . . or . . . whatever it is you thought. (This would be the three of you who noticed my recent, um, sabbatical.) But here I am again, celebrating the Frog Blog’s anniversary, albeit sheepishly. (How did sheep get in here? Let’s just say I feel like a toad and leave it at that.

I blame Jeff for getting me to come back. (Which is not to say it is his fault; merely that I blame him.)

Although the blog began in March of 2006 it was April (May?) when I received the e-mail inviting me to take over Fridays from the amazing Candace Salima. (I never did replace that woman, but nobody could.) I was befuddled. Truth be told, I had never seen the word “blog” before it popped up in that e-mail. It wasn’t in my dictionary.* A little research revealed that “blog” is a contraction of “web log.” Ah, ha! I knew what a captain’s log was from Star Trek and, bright girl that I am, extrapolated from there. And what a great little word to get to know! Blog can be a noun, a verb—sometimes even an adjective—all in the same sentence! What’s not to love about four letters that can do all that?

If I have a claim to fame (folly?) here on the Frog Blog, perhaps it is in, um, plasticizing The Frog. One of his earliest photo shoots was in Arizona in January of 2007 where he was snapped smoozing with Mean Aunt and her lovely daughter. A few months later he popped (hopped?) up again at another signing, this time in Cincinnati with two of Sariah’s sisters. He is most famous, of course, for posing with a rather befuddled-looking Stephenie Myer. Besides his much-acclaimed public appearances over the years, The Frog has written a couple of blogs, starred in a murder mystery, and gotten himself kidnapped by the mega-talented (if nefarious) Janette Rallison.

As much as I’ve loved that Frog, my favorite part the whole blogging experience has to be the incredible, fascinating people we meet along the way. I hesitate to attempt a list our guest bloggers for fear of missing somebody somewhere sometime, but no retrospective would be complete without acknowledging that sometimes we only got by with a little help from our friends. (At least I did.) In gratitude, I spent five hours sloshing around the Frog Blog Bog archives—mostly by flashlight in the wee hours of this morning—so I’ll be astounded if I didn’t miss a name or three. (Please forgive me!) Here is my best effort at hats off to our guest stars who are, in no particular order: Janette Rallison, Michele Ashman Bell, Christy Gruber, Marnie Pehrson, Janet Jensen, Linda Weaver Clark, Jennifer Savage, Hilary Blair, Betsy Brannon Green, Jennifer Leigh, Tristi Pinkston, Annette Lyon, Marsha Ward, Matthew Buckley, Evil HR Lady, Delsa Anderson, Rachel Nunes, Joan Sowards/LizAnne Bayh, Tammy Daybell, Pat Taylor, Traci Hunter Abramson, Crystal Liechty, Debra Erfert, Julie Wright, Deirdra Eden Coppel, Jewel Adams, Anna Jones Buttimore, Bandit Blair, Marlene Austin, Cheri Crane, Meredith C. Dias, Michele Holmes, Jennie Hansen, Jon Spell, John Governale, Sheralyn Pratt, Stephanie Humphreys, Doug Johnston, Amy Black, Candace Salima, W. Dave Free, Jeri Gilchrist, Daron Fraley, Spencer McKay, Michael Cleverly, Karlene Browning, Scott Blair, Lynn Gardner, Bron Bahlmann, Gale Sears, Susan Corpany, Valerie Holladay, Nancy Campbell Allen, Deanne Blackhurst, Laura Bingham, and Julia Polakoff.

Clearly, we have had impressive guests. More importantly, we continue to be visited by amazing readers/writers. I could never count the number of times I’ve perused the comments one of you left after a blog and thought, “I wish I’d said that!” or “If only I could express myself that well.” You are some of the most thoughtful, articulate, and creative people on the planet and I will forever be grateful that cyberspace (and Sariah!) brought us together.

One more observation, really quick. (I’m approximately 350,000 words behind everybody else at this point, so you can’t blame me for trying to gain back a little ground.) When I joined the blog, family and friends began giving me frogs. (Although I suspect Moses “gifted” Pharaoh with a few more than I’ve received, I definitely have my share.) My veritable army of amphibians is stationed all around the yard and almost always draws comment from passersby. By far the most surprising—and meaningful—comment was from a new neighbor in Chino Valley who looked over my collection of little green men and said, "I just knew you were Christian!"


As it turns out, in some circles of modern Christianity, FROG is a popular acronym for Forever Remember Our God or Forever Rely On God. Her revelation startled me. Not just the oddity of the God/frog (?!) thing, but the serendipity of it all. As Jeff and Rob and Stephanie and Julie and Sariah reminisced about the last five years of their personal and professional lives, I was struck again by the aptness of our mascot. These people are some of the most gifted and brilliant writers in their genres, but what I have long loved and admired most about them is that in each of their hearts the “writer” label will forever come after “LDS.” It is becoming increasingly rare to find so much truth and so much testimony in "mere" books and blogs and tweets. These people are beyond inspiring. I look back today with gratitude, seeing how much I’ve grown—just as a result of trying to fit in.

Thanks, guys! (Yes, even Jeff. Maybe especially Jeff.)

*It is now. I update dictionaries about as often as most top models update their wardrobes.