Saturday, January 31, 2009

The End

By Keith Fisher

I’ve been thinking of all the endings we suffer everyday. We love to open a bottle of soda but we hate to hear the last slurp from a straw. The excitement at the beginning of the Christmas Season turns to sadness when we must put the decorations away.

There is the end of an era, the end of a movie, the end of childhood, the end of school, and the end of a restless night. There are thousands of ends, both good and bad that must be endured, or savored. One of the most bittersweet endings we all face, is the end of a life. Its the time we all dread, when we must say goodbye. Whether we are the ones leaving or the ones staying, goodbye is not something that comes easy to us.

We learn from scriptures and teachings at church, life goes on. The doctrines of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints teach that life not only goes on, but also, there is so much more to it. We can be with our loved ones again and enjoy the same relationships we had in this life. And there will be increase.

So why do we mourn? A while back, a friend of mine ended his own life. I didn’t know he was so tortured. I learned some of the extent of it later, but I’m sure no one knows it all. I wasn’t that close to him but I counted him as a cherished friend. So, I regret all the things everyone regrets when something like that happens.

The key, I think, to all of this is what we remember. Normally, I don’t attend funerals or weddings unless the person has meant a lot to me. Several years ago, I attended the funeral of a man who, by one comment taught me a very important principle in my work ethic. I’m sure he never knew, but it has affected my whole life. So, I celebrated his life and rejoiced at the end of it.

I know you’re wondering what all this has to do with the subject of writing. Well, there is the point that every book has an end and we, as writers, must make it sweet. Readers need to come to the end and savor the life that is your book. If we do it right, The reader will mourn because it ended, but they will think of the story and the characters and find solace in them.

Take the time to develop your characters. Make them the kind of person that has a flaw but they are working on it. Make them larger than life, but let them be human too. If you love them, others will too.

Live the story in your mind and in your dreams. Work out the flaws, make it perfect, then when the end comes, make it sweet. Even if someone must die, make it bittersweet. The readers will love you for it. They can reflect on the story and the characters. Remember how you felt when Dumbledore died, and the vindication you felt when you found out he would’ve died anyway and Snape did as he was told. All of these things give us closure and help us savor the end.

"And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure."
-Albus Dumbledore-

Good luck in your writing---see you next week.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Growing Pains

by G.Parker

I've mentioned that I belong to a critique group (probably more than I should have, but it's part of my life, so there you go). I also mentioned that we were adding a new member.

It's funny how you meet people that you've been conversing with online and discover they are nothing like what you envisioned. Sometimes you don't really have a mental picture at all because you don't know much about them. Trying to attribute a deep voice or dark hair is useless because there is nothing to go on.

Well, this new member may provide a unique spin on things. He's a little different from us, writes non-fiction, and is the second one in the group to be published.

In looking at our group, and discussing how we have been a group for almost a year, it was surprising to each of us because we feel like we've been together a long time. Much longer than that. We know each other's strengths (a little) and weaknesses -- we are involved in what they're writing. They have a lot of patience for me because I have several works in progress and I've tossed a couple of different ones at them for review and they've never received a complete book yet...

But I felt a reluctance to change our dynamics. I know we need a new person -- we could probably do with a couple more people and still be set. But everyone has to deal with change, even though we don't always like it. Some of us just deal with it better than others. I always thought I handled it well.

But I sat in our group, watching my friends and listening to them discuss their stories for this new member, and wondered why I'd invited him. He was an unknown element. Who knew what he was going to bring to our group? Who knew if he would even stay? The other three we'd invited hadn't.

I realized he will bring a different view to our stuff. He will be the reader that might grab our book because he needs a change of pace, something to relax with. He might have viewpoints that are valuable in the feedback we give each other. This could be a great addition to our growing friendships.

This reminded me of dealing with the people in the stories we write. Sometimes a character will pop in and you find yourself wondering "where in the heck did he come from?" You're tempted to remove him, sometimes I delete without even contemplating what that character might do for the story -- but you realize he could bring a depth to your story that's missing. Something that will add to the plot that was necessary to it's growth and ties it all together.

Life's like that sometimes -- imitating art. I'm glad it's not always the depressed painters it imitates...grin.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Who's Book Are You Writing?

By Nichole Giles

One of the hazards of having other people read your work is the infliction of opinion—or possibly many conflicting opinions—upon the pages you’re sharing. On one hand, it’s extremely helpful to have certain points brought up for discussion. On the other hand, too many differing opinions might cause you to make changes to your work that might or might not affect the outcome of your story. Even if every single person expresses a valid concern, it’s up to the author to decide what happens. After all, it’s your book.

“But wait,” you think. “So-and-so had a good point, but so did whosa-ma-callit. To whom should I listen? And will the other person have their feelings hurt if I chose not to do it their way?”

What your friends, relatives, and facebook buddies say isn’t the question. You—the author—know your characters far better than anyone else. It’ll do you good to remember that. They live in your head, your heart, and your mind. You are their life-breath, and the plotter of their fates. To them, you are god. (Or goddess, whatever the case may be.)

It doesn’t matter who insists on arguing over the smaller details, in the end, only you know the truth of the situation.

Your friends are trying to help you, so don’t forget to thank them. If they’re good friends, they’ll understand why you had to write your book your way. And if they continue to argue, make sure they know you appreciate their point of view, and agree to disagree. If they don’t understand, well, maybe they should write their own books so they can make sure to write it their way.

And your book—with your living, breathing characters—will be brilliant!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Finding A Treasure

Have you ever been doing research for one project you are writing and run across something you need for a different story? That happens to me all the time.

In my office, I have a file cabinet on wheels. It's crammed full of info for all my projects and then some. I keep anything I find that I might someday need. To you that may sound like a mess, but I assure you it's not. I have organized it into file folders. I'm not sayhing that I have organized the file folders, because I haven't. I'm just saying that each topic is in a file folder.

Often times, the information I need most I find in the strangest places. They are where I never would have thought to look. It's the accidental findings that I value most. If I don't print a copy of it now, I'll never find it again. That is the reason my file cabinet is so full. I can't let any treasure slip through my fingers.

I'll bet you are wondering if I ever use these things in my file folders. I do. These files actually help me when I'm searching for something new to write. When I have used the folder beyond what I need it for, I shove it into a drawer in another file dabinet. That way I have room for more research, and it's nearby so I can find it if the need arises.

To me, part of writing, is the research. I love it, and the amazing treasures I find. Every day to me, is a new adventure.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Good Things Are In Store For Me!

By Darvell Hunt

Last Thursday, I went out to dinner with my wife for sushi. Well, actually, I got sashimi and she got teriyaki chicken, but that's not the point.

After dinner, our waitress brought us fortune cookies. My fortune read:

"Remember three months from this date. Good things are in store for you."

I remembered that the LDStorymakers Conference was to take place three months from Saturday. I took this realization as a sign of something good to come, although, to be truthful, the cookie was two days off. (Stupid cookie.)

I’m not sure if I’m destined to have a book acceptance two days before the conference, or if I was meant to open the cookie two days later and there’s something significant that’s going to happen at this year’s writing conference.

Either way, I’m expecting great things by April 24. I’ll let you know in three months exactly what that turns out to be. After all, fortune cookies always come true, right?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Pearls of Wisdom

by Keith Fisher

In the past, on this blog, I’ve talked about the lessons I’m learning about the craft of writing. We’ve explored together, some of the basics. I sat down to write a blog this week and asked myself, what pearls of wisdom can we explore today? What insights have I learned that might help others on the path to publication?

I thought back on my week. It’s been a great writing week. The new book is flowing from my fingertips. Characters are telling me their story and I find myself correcting them saying, you can’t talk about that in the LDS market. So I tone it down and change words.

I took the first draft of the new book, to critique group and read it there. I hoped for praise because of the fresh idea. I got feedback about the exposition on the first page. I listened, with gratitude, to their findings and I took it home. I need to say that I knew about the exposition. Since this book deals so much with the personal feelings of the characters, I have to work hard at telling the back-story in subtle ways, without turning conversations into info dumps, or worse, having too many flashbacks.

It is a story that must be told, and I’m working hard, telling it right. For the most part, I write the story on notebook paper, including all the back-story and flashbacks. Then, I blend the exposition into dialog and actions. I’m still keeping a few flashbacks, but it’s coming together. I have a feeling that when I bring it to group, the watchwords will be back-story and exposition.

Also, in my weekly recollections, I found another lesson. Because of the cost of a necessary home repair project, we had to refinance our home. During the "paperwork gathering" portion of the refinance, I printed copies on discarded, critique group corrected, manuscript pages. I never thought about using fresh paper.

While I signed my life away, the loan officer commented about reading my manuscript. She seemed curious about it. I asked her if she liked it, and told her I’m an unpublished author. She told me how exciting that is, and that she couldn’t wait until my book comes out so she could read it and have me write something special inside the cover.

Clearly she exaggerated my celebrity. Either that or she’s not familiar with the LDS market, and thinks I’m going to be on Opra. I, of course, being a man, ate it right up. She had me believing I would be a rich, best selling author, and we would finance all our mansions through her.

That delusion lasted all of thirty seconds. Then, my feet touched the ground again, and I returned. If the truth be told, I really spent the whole time trying to explain the LDS market, but it’s great to have someone think I’m special. When My Brother’s Keeper, (the working title of the book I’m submitting), comes out, I hope it touches her heart. Then, I will have my reward.

Those are all the pearls of wisdom I can muster this week. It takes a long time for a clam to manufacture those things.

Good luck in your writing—see you next week.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hey, I Wrote That!

by G.Parker

In a conversation with a coworker yesterday, we discussed how nobody writes their own speeches anymore. I'm not sure if the President ever wrote his own speech -- perhaps Lincoln wrote his own in the Gettysburg address. But so many people judge the man on what he says, you'd think he'd have more to say.

It's unfortunate that one of the most powerful men in the country isn't allowed to write his own speeches. Or is it, perhaps, that he doesn't have time? I would imagine that was where it started. I mean, after Lincoln, the President became so busy running the expansion of the nation that they didn't have time to pound out a speech. Maybe.

Using the excuse that 'they didn't write that' wouldn't hold water either because apparently they are supposed to approve and edit the speeches that are written for them.

Wouldn't you like to have that job?

"Yeah, I'm a speechwriter for the president. No, I didn't think that statement would have caused such a scandal, I mean, I thought everyone knew about Cuba..."

I think it would hold a lot of pressure. To know that what you were writing was something to be taken by the American people as word for word what the President thinks and feels -- it would be daunting. Surely they would need to know the man. In my research on the idea, I discovered that some of them do still write some of their own stuff. Clinton (Heaven help us) apparently wrote half of his own speeches. It's also a requirement that they write their own acceptance speech, thought I don't know how strictly that's adhered to.

Unfortunately, most of us have to write our own speeches and talks. When I give a talk in church, it's my own thoughts, fears and worries that go into it.

When we write our stories, it's us. We can't use the excuse that someone else wrote it, because that's what we're doing -- we're the writers. I would imagine a ghostwriter would love to be able to say, "Hey, I wrote that," but that's part of being a ghostwriter, isn't it? I think ghostwriting would be a similar job to that of speechwriter. No one but the big guy gets the credit or the bad perhaps that could be a good thing.

But part of the reason we write, well -- perhaps for some of us it's 50 percent of the reason, is to be recognized. We want to be known for our writing. If we write an article for the newspaper, a magazine or other medium, we want our name right there under the title. I guess you could say it's one of the few quirks of the trade. One of the few pleasures afforded us as the average writer.

Of course, how big you sign your name could be a whole other subject...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hateful Characters You Can Love

By Nichole Giles

Have you ever come across a character who was so well rounded that you both loved him and hated him at the same time? So well developed and multifaceted that you could create a list, filling one side with his good qualities and one with the bad, and sometimes have the bad outweigh the good? And still, you love this character because there are so many layers to him.

I’ve seen a few movies lately. It’s funny, because I don’t often get to go to movies when they’re in the theater, and since the beginning of December I’ve seen several. A few I’ve really liked, and some were just okay. But there was one movie in particular, with a character so well fleshed out, that it has stuck in my head for days afterward. That happens to me sometimes. Usually, though, it’s a romance like, The Notebook, or While You Were Sleeping, or Shakespeare in Love. But this movie, Gran Torino, is about a prejudice, bitter, disrespectful old man who has some really big issues. But even as he grumped about things and calls his neighbors offensive names, his witty statements had me laughing out loud.

Before I go any farther, I’m going to warn you. This movie has a LOT of extremely bad language in it and for that earned an R rating. So, if you can’t tolerate language, I don’t recommend it. Also, because it deals with gangs, there is obviously some violence as well. But the storyline itself is extremely well written.

Without spoiling the story for people who might chose to see it, I’ll point out that everyone who knows Walt hates—or at least severely dislikes—him, including his own family members. He’s bitter and mean to everyone around him. Until one day he inadvertently helps his two young neighbor kids when a gang decides to target them. The funny part is he didn’t even mean to help. It was just one of those bitter old man quirks. The Hmong (Vietnamese) family—a good-hearted teenage girl in particular—take Walt under their collective wing, ignoring his insults and terrible attitude, and persist to soften him into friendship. And because he was so bitter and so alone, I enjoyed watching his journey toward caring about someone other than himself. That’s good writing.

What kind of talent does it take to create a character that we’re supposed to hate and make us love him? His own children detest him, his grandchildren have no respect or admiration for him, and his neighbors consider him a complete jerk. But the audience comes to love him. Not because he’s sweet and lovable, or because he changes a whole lot. He’s old enough to be pretty well set in his ways. But in the end, I loved Walt for what he had to deal with, and what he was willing to do to help those kids. In my mind, he became absolved for all his life’s mistakes by the love he showed for them.

The story felt real, and made me think. I love when that happens. It forces me to look at my characters and figure out their strengths and flaws. Are they three-dimensional or are they completely flat? Do they have faults and flaws and things they do wrong? And at the end of my story, will they have grown or learned something? I certainly hope so.

When you can take a detestable, undesirable character and force your audience to respect him, and even maybe love him a little, that’s good writing. I hope someday my audience will be able to say the same thing about my work. It would be the ultimate compliment.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Don't Let Your Work Disappear

By C. LaRene Hall

Every time I have a good idea after I’ve gone to bed and fail to roll out and write it down, I hate myself come morning. That is the case today. Yeah, I know what it’s about, but the wording is going to be all wrong.

The past two weeks without a computer at home was difficult. To make matters worse the first company I called made the situation harder than it needed to be. My first appointment was at 10 am. After an hour, I telephoned to see what the delay was. They returned my call and asked if they could move the appointment to 3 pm. When they didn’t come by 3:30, I called but the receptionist told me I had to give them at least an hour to show. I paced the floor for another hour. By this time, I was angry.

One of the most precious things to me is my time. This company, Fast Tek, had wasted 2½ hours of my day. How dare they do this to customers? I called to see what the excuse would be. When they called me back about 5 pm, they told me they would have to reschedule and would be there first thing in the morning.

I waited until 10 am and telephoned to see where they were. Several phone calls and an hour later they told me they had someone coming. He would call me to tell me what time he would be at my place and they guessed it would be within the hour. I waited another half hour before picking up my computer and leaving. No one had called me and I had found a much better deal with someone else.

While I was at Computer Fix, my telephone rang. It was almost noon and the voice message said, “I’m outside the door and no one is answering. I will wait for about 20 minutes.” I laughed and said to myself, “This is first thing in the morning. Well, you can wait all day if you want.” Twenty minutes later he left another message, “I’m sorry about the problems but there was a clerical error and no one knew they were supposed to be coming until an hour ago.” I laughed even harder when I listened to this message because this was the first time I had heard this excuse.

Actually, that company lost out. I was desperate and agreed to pay their high prices of $89 an hour. I wanted my old stuff retrieved off my computer. It was worth hundreds of dollars to me. Instead, I paid $100 for a backup system. Now everything I do on my new computer will be backed-up daily. The kind man who helped me didn’t charge me for retrieving everything off my computer or for the diagnostic test that he ran on my dead computer. He was truly helpful, and he’ll get a good referral from me. And, lucky me, I didn’t have to pay an arm and leg for my mistake.

I think this proves that as a writer we will do anything for our precious manuscripts we spend hours creating. I realize I should have been smarter and protected them daily. I think I was dumb and thought I’d have some sort of warning. Never did I dream that in one second my life’s work could disappear.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cheering Crowds or Silent Readers?

By Darvell Hunt

About 15 years ago, somebody in one of my writing groups asked how they would go about sending their novel to a Hollywood movie producer, because this budding new writer believed his new novel would make a great movie.

He was promptly told that if he wanted a movie made from his story, he should have written a screenplay instead of a novel.

While this is humorous to relate, it’s unfortunately not that uncommon. While it’s true that many best-selling novels get turned into movies, the process of writing a visual story is very different from that of a verbal story.

I suppose this is why so many people are disappointed when they see a movie based on their favorite novel. Movie producers and directors often see stories very differently than a large portion of its readers. And on top of that, how many novels can you read in less than two hours? Much of a novel’s story—often the “good stuff”—gets removed from the movie version.

A writer needs to always remember his or her audience—and whether or not that audience is a group of people in a theater or individual readers curled up under blankets in easy chairs. Movies and novels are all about telling good stories—but they are done quite differently. Remembering the audience is just another job we writers have to get right to succeed, as if we don’t already have enough to figure out.

I’m currently writing a non-fiction LDS book. It’s also a very different experience from writing a fiction novel, but I’m enjoying the process. I hope when it gets turn into a movie, that they don’t want me to add a plot or anything stupid like that.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Listening To the Voices

By Keith Fisher

In one of the many books about writing I’ve read over the years, I remember one author writing about arguing with characters and having them dictate their own story. I kind of knew what he was talking about but it sounded crazy. I showed the paragraph to my wife, and she agreed the author is crazy.

I’ve since come to understand exactly what he was saying. I too, might be crazy, but when you live with a story long enough, it begins to take on a life of it’s own in your mind. How many of you converse with others about Harry Potter and find yourself talking like the characters really exist? This, in a way, is what writers talk about, when they say things like "my characters won’t leave me alone".

How many of you remember the movie, The Sixth Sense? The protagonist in that story has been given a gift. He can see and hear dead people. He helps many of them deal with their issues so they can move on, but they scare the crap out of him. He’d rather not see them. In fact he tries to ignore them, but they clamor for his attention.

I started writing a new story two weeks ago. (As if I needed another project, right?) I got the idea for the concept a while back. Since it wasn’t exactly in my genre, I tried to persuade a friend of mine to write it. Then I signed up for the first chapter contest, and a pitch session at the upcoming LDStorymaker’s conference. I wondered what to enter. Then, this story hit me over the head.

I began to draft it but characters started tapping me on the shoulder. Kind of like in the movie above, They wouldn’t leave me alone. I’ve been writing whole chapters in notebooks, because it’s bothersome to get to my computer. I’ve heard authors say their story wanted to be told, but this story is like The Sixth Sense, I can’t ignore it.

I know this can’t continue through the whole book, but for now it’s exhilarating. So, if you’re talking to me and I suddenly start arguing with someone you can’t see. Or I start scribbling in my notebook and ignore my surroundings, please be kind. I’m experiencing character overload. I can’t seem to write fast enough to please them. But I don’t want to turn them away.

Good luck in your writing—see you next week

Friday, January 16, 2009

It's Important

by G.Parker

You might have noticed a theme the past couple of weeks. We have been writing about our critique groups and what they have meant to us.

Writing is usually a lonely occupation, with many hours spent staring at a computer screen, trying to come up with the right word or phrase. Writing groups or critique groups help us see our work through different eyes and help with the idiosyncrasies of the trade. Though our spouses support us and are often our biggest fans, they aren't always objective and view our 'quirks' with a shake of the head.

My own critique group is going through a transition phase. We started with 4 members; three women, one man -- brave, isn't he? We grew to add three more women, but they have all flaked out. We knew when we started this group that life would get in the way, it always does. There are shifts in schedules, illnesses, trips, children who need us.

We are adding another person (again) and I'm excited because it's a man. I'm hoping that our lone male member will have someone to add to his perspective and rub shoulders with -- perhaps he won't feel so one-sided.

We are also having to decide what day of the week we are going to meet. It's interesting how trying to mesh schedules becomes a difficulty in our church because of the different callings. There is only one reason why we stick with it and work it out: It's important.

We feel that the growth we receive from having each other's input is so important, that we don't want to give up. We might skip a week here, postpone a meeting there -- but we will meet. We will persevere, and our work will improve.

Now I just have to remember which section of story I gave them last time...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Weather, A Plot Element?

By Nichole Giles

Last week I mentioned my critique group and our adventure with a recent storm. I have to be honest, though it was somewhat painful to dig my friends out of the snow, it was also sort of fun. (Sorry, Keith!) I mean, think about it. A bunch of full-grown adults, who would never voluntarily go outside during the night to play around in the freezing winter weather, out there anyway, digging, throwing snow, and getting soaked. It reminded me a little bit about a scene in the movie, Jack Frost. You know, the one where the dad wakes his son up in the middle of the night because it’s snowing and he wants someone to build a snowman with him? Of course, the snowman eventually becomes…well, I better not ruin it if you haven’t seen the show (which I recommend, by the way, it’s awesome—but sad). Anyway, that reminder made the weather at my house a little more bearable.

Isn’t it funny the things that stick in our minds about certain movies or books? One of my favorite books is set in the Caribbean, where the main characters are scuba divers and the biggest dangers are pirates and sharks…both of which they meet at some point. But weather played a key role to the story.

Two days after the snow incident at my house, I hopped a plane to Texas to visit my sister and her little family. The weather where she lives is very different. Not only was there no snow, but the day I arrived was actually balmy. The temperature rose above seventy degrees—in the middle of January! The sun shone brightly, glinting off of everything it touched, and a warm breeze lifted my hair away from my shoulders. What a difference!

Imagine how happy I was to finally see the sun, and for that matter, the ground under my feet. Not only did I not bring a coat, I got to wear my flip-flops! But Texas has scary weather issues too. Like tornadoes and large storms from has-been hurricanes.

As my eyes searched the sky, I realized that everywhere I go a new plot possibility can rear its head. The location setting of my story has the potential to add additional conflict, or at least a memorable scene. Come to think of it, the addition of new characters can also have this effect. Like the African guy sitting across the aisle from me on the plane, speaking an undecipherable language into his cell phone and wearing shoes with strange looking toes. Who could he be and why is he making a cameo in my newest book? And how did he come to be on the same plane as my character? (Okay, not really, but I might use him somewhere…)

If you really want to add tension to your writing, think about conjuring up a snowstorm, tornado, hurricane, forest fire, burning desert sun, or some other act of nature. Like magic, you could have a secondary arc, or more tension in the initial conflict. Not only that, but creating a weather phenomenon of that magnitude can pull you out of a writing slump you might have fallen in by living in a certain climate for too long. (One month of snow is too long for me, let alone two!)

As you’re writing, never let yourself miss obvious possibilities and common sense solutions. These are the things that have the potential to make or break your story. So take a break, shake things up, and add some undesirable weather into your scene. Just think of all the possibilities.

As for me, well, I’m back home, where there is tons of snow on the ground and icky, mucky air. But I spent a few great days in the sunshine, and boy, it was a nice change. I wonder if my characters need a change too? Hmm…

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Real Character

By C. LaRene Hall

Recently I finished reading the third book in a series by Beverly Lewis. The thing I’ve noticed about her books is she intertwines the Amish customs into her story. By the time the story is finished you are familiar with their distinctive clothing. You know they own horse-drawn buggies, not cars. There is a three-hour worship service every other Sunday and a shared meal follows the meeting. You can picture the people in her stories.

When we are writing a story, it is very important to include customs of the people. We should include the things they do daily, the way they wear their hair, the clothing they wear, and the way they talk. There are many things to remember as you write, but making a character come to life should be on the top of the list.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Methods of Delivery

By Darvell Hunt

Two weeks ago, I was 40 years old. Next year I’ll be 43. My, how time flies.

For my birthday last month, my mother-in-law gave me a sterling silver flask with an Angel Moroni engraved on one side. The tiny flask looks like it may have been made from two silver spoons placed together, with the handles removed, and a screw-top lid added on top. The small container is meant to hold consecrated oil for the blessing of the sick. It’s a nice piece of artwork and I plan to carry it with me. This consecrated oil container was made by Navajo silversmiths on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Northern Arizona, where my wife’s parents just returned from a full-time mission. I filled it with olive oil at my first opportunity.

My wife also recently bought a spray can of “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” used for cooking. It’s like the popular PAM and contains olive oil—just like my new sterling silver blessing flask.

So I now have two olive oil containers with very different packaging systems and vastly different means of delivering the oil. The containers are different and the methods of delivery are different, but the oil is essentially the same.

I was wondering that if I could somehow consecrate the oil in the spray can, could I spray the top of a sick person’s head and bless them? Now hold on, I’m not trying to be sacrilegious or anything. Normally, when consecrating oil, you hold the open container of oil and consecrate the contents (not the container!) for the blessing of the sick. Now that would certainly be harder to do with a pressurized can of olive oil, so I probably won’t be doing that anytime soon. I also don’t think anybody would appreciate me spraying the whole top of their head with olive oil, when a small drop on the crown would suffice.

But my point is this: the spray can could—if the oil were appropriately consecrated—be a valid method of delivery for the oil to consecrate the sick person’s head for blessing.

Now, I’m not telling you this just to be silly. Keep with me for a few more seconds. This idea of differing methods does apply to writing, if you can follow my line of reasoning.

Some have said that J. K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer can’t write, yet their stories are best sellers and have hit the reading marketplace by storm. Why is that? And why do people, primarily other writers, say that people like Rowling and Meyer can’t write, when these writers are obviously are doing something right with their stories?

I believe it all comes down to the method of delivery. While the methods of these writers might be unorthodox and not what people are used to seeing, the content is dead on and that's what people care about. We all love these stories because of the stories, not because of the words used to tell those stories. The methods of delivery can vary greatly, but what most readers are truly interested in are the stories.

Becoming a good writer—even a good LDS writer—is all about learning how to write great stories and yet not allowing your words get in the way of telling those stories to the reader. Basically, it comes down to a matter of packaging.

The story is the oil and the words are the container. The oil is the same in both of my examples above, but it is simply packaged differently. What we care about is the delivery of the oil, not how it is done.

Now all I'm left with is trying to figure how to consecrate olive oil in a pressurized spray can...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Writing through the Pain

By Keith Fisher

Back in the early 1990’s I got involved in the Lower Your Fat Thermostat program. It did, and still does make sense. If you want to lose the fat on your body, you must convince your body that it should be smaller.

As part of the program, I learn to study nutrition labels, limit my meals to low fat, no sugar, no salt, and no refined carbohydrates. Coupled with the diet, was a regiment of exercise. I re-learned to ride a bike, stationary and ten-speed. I walked, and tried to run. I got out into my beloved mountains.

The program worked. I was healthier, and thinner than I had been in years. Buying clothes off the rack in a regular department store was a thrill. Then, while in a rush to go to the automatic teller one day, I stepped out of the car into a rainstorm wearing spongy-soled flip-flops. They soaked up the water—I stepped onto a tile floor and my feet went out from under me. I knew I had injured myself but I tried to ignore the pain in my shoulder. I didn’t go to the doctor, and I couldn’t ride my bikes. The shock transmitted to my shoulder from the handlebars was unbearable. I began to slack off. Then, Christmas came and I cheated. Just one chocolate covered Macadamia Nut couldn’t hurt, could it?

About that time, I went through a very stressful time at work. Attacks against me were frequent and I slipped into my old self.

Recently, I have been experiencing a stressful time. I don’t want to elaborate because it’s personal, but I noticed a decrease in my writing. Other than the blogs I am obligated to write, I have been slacking off. I sit in front of the computer for brief periods and check email.

When I was on the low fat program, I felt wonderful. When I am writing, especially plotting, I feel a release of creative energy that excites and delights me. Why do I let problems defeat me?
The fall of my diet program began when I injured my shoulder. It culminated in giving into the stresses of life. I often kick myself for not getting medical help but more than that, for not keeping up my exercise. I should’ve walked more until my shoulder healed.

My writing, as a friend of mine said, "Is life." It’s what I have chosen to do. I may not be very good at it, but I find joy in putting stories together. I find release in getting my point across in a blog or article. I cannot let it fall by the wayside. I cannot give in to discouragement. I must toe the line and continue to fight the battle of word placement and arguing with characters.

I sat down yesterday, determined to write something other than my blog. I pulled up a new story I’ve been plotting. At first, I edited (a task I’m not fond of). Then, I got pulled into the story. I found the world I’d created and continued my journey. It only lasted for the brief moment of an hour, and I had to go, but it felt wonderful.

I learned that I must keep to my task. Even if all around me is falling apart. I cannot allow my concerns to take over my life, the way my shoulder injury changed it. And you know? Writing, especially plotting, is like a shot of morphine against the pain of a broken body. What I write can sooth my stress with the balm of creative release. I must write through the pain.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week

Friday, January 09, 2009

Conversations in Passing

by G.Parker

I am fortunate to have a mother-in-law who is very generous with her time and money. The week after Christmas we spent in California at Disneyland and watching the Rose Parade in person. It was way fun -- warmer than Utah but still cold, and I spent the whole time people watching.

Have you found as a writer that you are a people watcher? I listen to other people's conversations (not on purpose, sometimes you just can't help but overhear), I look at how they dress, how they interact with others and many times I can discover what their personality or character is.

It's great stuff for filing away and storing for characters in future works. I thought I'd share some of the comments I overheard and let you join in my glimpse of their worlds.

Comments at the Rose Parade and later at the float viewing:
(two younger girls behind us that screamed -- really screamed -- anytime they were excited about a float or band...ugh) "Look at them!" (when a school from Mexico was going by) "They all look alike! How strange is that? There aren't any black's or anything."
(when horses went by - every single one of them) "How sad! Don't you think they look sad?" "Yeah -- I don't know how those people can live with themselves."

"How big is your horse?" from a group to our side. The rider answered back, "19 hands!"

"Well, if you're selling them 2 for $10, why can't I join with that lady that wants to buy one and get it for $5?"

"You'll have to talk to my boss, lady, I don't make up the rules."

"I would have gotten a bigger bag if I'd known you were going to eat some. You said you didn't want any." (my hubby said that sounded alot like us...sigh.)

"Oh, look, ice cream!" (It was pretty chilly...we couldn't figure why anyone would want ice

"Look at all the seeds."

"I want to pet the dog!"

Disneyland conversations:

"I tell ya! I was going around this corner, well, maybe a little fast, but not too fast, and the car is all wheel drive, ya know? So it starts sliding as I'm going around!"

"How much longer are we going to be in line?"

"Have you been on this ride before?"

"Yeah, it's the bomb!"

"Where did you get those shoes?"

"I love your hair."

"We'll get something to eat as soon as we get off the ride."

"What about this sweater? I don't think it's heavy enough."

"You'll need to use the Disney Card for that purchase."

"I can't use my Visa?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Look, it's Goofy! I want a picture with Goofy."

"Can we ride the train all around the park this time?"

"This is the end of the line to the women's restroom?" (I heard that one a LOT...grin) "It's longer than the line to the restaurant!"

"You know, they really should make more stalls in the womens restrooms."

"They don't have any lockets from Pirates of the Caribbean here!"

And just since I mentioned the women's Baker California there's a hamburger joint called Big Boy's that has a great breakfast buffet. We ate there both on the way down and way back. On one of the trips, I needed to visit the facilities, and there was a line out to the waiting area. One of the women behind me commented: "I work in an office with 33 women and 2 men. The guys pretty much have the restroom all to themselves. We are always waiting."

I figure one day we'll all have a voice in building something and the architect will get a clue that women have to relieve themselves much more than men, and it usually takes longer! grin.

I wish I had tape recorded everything now, it would have been funny to get all of the conversations I heard down, but that's all my memory came up with.

Try it sometime, the next time you're in the grocery store, hardware store, or library -- it's amazing what people talk about when they don't realize anyone is listening.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Now That's Dedication!

By Nichole Giles

I’ve heard in so many forms and so many ways that a writer has to be dedicated in order to be published. We have to work hard, and never give up hope. And also, it’s important to have a critique group and hopefully other avenues of support and blah, blah, blah.

Well, I happen to know a few writers who are VERY dedicated.

For one thing, my online writer’s group has a yearly rejection contest. I frequently join this contest because, frankly, the person with the most rejections also usually ends up with the most acceptances. It makes total sense. And even after all those rejections, we keep pushing forward and moving on. We just don’t give up. There’s something to be said for that, especially considering that we have hundreds of rejections between us each year.

But my critique group, well, let me tell you about their dedication. Even though December was busy for everyone, we still set meeting times and most of us met. I have to admit, the week between Christmas and New Years was tough for me, but my fellow critiqurers met anyway, because they’re determined to keep moving—even during the busiest season of the year. And what’s more, this past Tuesday, when we were supposed to meet, a snowstorm hit our area. I’m not talking about a little storm, I’m talking about a storm that dumped somewhere around a foot of snow on top of the other snow we already had.

Now, if you read my other blog, you know that the roads in my neighborhood are already so bad that anyone without four-wheel-drive can’t even get out of their driveway. Since it was my turn to host, I didn’t have a problem. I got to stay home in my warm, cozy house and wait for everyone else to show up. To be nice, though, I did email them all a warning about the roads and informed them that they would be stuck by the end of the night.

Not that they believed me. When everyone finally got here, we spent a few minutes trying to decide weather they were all crazy or just plain dedicated. By the end of the night, as we were digging snow out from under two very stuck cars, the decision was unanimous. Only dedication would send a handful of people out in a massive storm to risk ice, and snow, knowing full well they’d have to push each other’s cars out of snow banks before anyone could go home. And all this at 9:30 pm.

Forty-five minutes, one fifteen-year old muscle boy, and a very kind and helpful neighbor later, (Thanks Brayden Giles and John Kelly!) we got the cars out. Keith got a face full of snow in the process, and the rest of us a few sore muscles, but everyone got home. Thank goodness. If something had happened to one of us, the rest of us would spend the first hour of our next meeting mourning the loss of one of our group.

You didn’t think we’d cancel, did you? Come on! We have books to finish.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Making a Difference

By C. LaRene Hall

Since it’s early in the year I’m still thinking about what I can do this year to make a difference. I think the beginning of a year is maybe a good time to focus on what I already have. Many people only moan and groan about the things they don’t have. Little do they realize how much is within their reach.

We still live in a world where almost everything is attainable. Maybe with money tight we’ll have to tighten our belts more, but nearly anything is possible.

My husband and I live in a comfortable home—nothing fancy. We have plenty to eat—sometimes too much. If we want to take a trip, we go. If we need something new, occasionally we have to wait, but more often than not, we go buy it.

One thing I’m grateful for is the opportunity to attend church. Now the question is, how do I show my gratitude? The first thing I do is participate by attending the meetings. Then I accept callings to serve. Next, I support others in the things they are called to do. If you aren’t happy in your church, maybe you aren’t doing your part. Reach out and lend someone a hand.

I’m grateful for my family and friends. This year I’m not going to take them for granted. I’m going to put forth a bigger effort to do more for them, and thank them more often for the things they do for me.

This year I’m going to write more and submit more than last year. I’m not going to sit around and wait for someone to publish the things I’ve written. I’m going to submit something every week. This week is almost gone. I better get busy. I had a publisher tell me my story was good, they just didn’t publish that type of story anymore, so somehow I’m going to find a publisher who will take it.

This is going to be a fun year. I want to make my life worthwhile and make a difference to the people around me.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

What Did you Really Mean by That?

By Keith Fisher

Okay, drum roll please. Imagine, if you will, an old man in tattered white robes, carrying a large hourglass in one hand and a scythe in the other. It rests on his shoulder, with the blade pointing down. The man has a long gray, beard and hair past his shoulders. His legs wobble from old age as he walks across your screen. He meets a little baby who wears a diaper and sash that gathers on his right hip. There is writing on the sash that says happy 2009.

The tired old man picks up the baby, kisses him, and puts him down. Then, he lays down his hourglass and scythe at the feet of the baby. He lets out a long breath, sighs, and shakes his head. With a good luck wave, he turns his back on the baby and shuffles off in the direction he came from.

This is a tired cliché used for many years to illustrate the year changing. But what if I added details about the old man’s wallet being tattered? Or, what if I pinned a campaign button on his robe? Something like McCain 08? How would you feel if the baby wore a logo T-shirt that said Save the Ozone or something like that?

These would be political statements and every one makes them. But then, so is the tattered condition of the old man’s robe. So is the unblemished condition of the baby.

Recently, I listened to the conversation at work. I know—it’s always a mistake, but I heard a man talking about an animated movie he wasn’t fond of. Because I have argued with him before, I was interested in his opinion. I asked what he thought of WALL-E. His answer surprised me.

He complained about political innuendo. Now, while I might be considered ravenous when it comes to political content. I don’t appreciate being indoctrinated by an animated family movie, but WALL-E? Yes, Happy Feet crossed the line, but WALL-E?

Okay, the whole story takes place in one of the many possible futures of the world. My friend talked about a specific chain of superstores and the similarities. I understand that people might be offended by the image of mankind in that possible reality. But can’t you just enjoy the story?

When I saw the movie, I noticed none of the things my friend mentioned. I came away cheered by the wonderful story. WALL-E finds true love and he overcomes all obstacles to fight for the future of mankind. It’s a great piece of writing.

During the course of our discussion, I realized, because writers have opinions and bias, it’s impossible to write anything that doesn’t have some semblance of the writer’s opinion. I guess the secret of being a popular author is to agree with the majority. Either that, or disagree entirely so that the writer becomes a bastion of radical thought.

When I think of my stories, I see places where bits and pieces of my own ideas come through. I know I must keep politics out, but I wonder why readers and viewers can’t look past the political, and enjoy the story.

I guess I’m getting old or something but I’m still confused. What was Wrong with WALL-E?

I’m reminded of the story of Puff the Magic Dragon. It’s a song by Peter Paul and Mary. The lyrics were a 1959 poem, written by a college student. Critics asked whether it was about smoking marijuana. Peter Yarrow, the man who wrote the music, said the song is about a boy and a dragon. In reality it’s the writers feelings about having to put away the trappings of his childhood and grow up.

As you might have guessed I loved WALL-E You see, Sometimes a movie is just a movie.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week

Friday, January 02, 2009

New Year, New Page

by G.Parker

One of the things I like about the New Year, is that it gives you the opportunity to start fresh. To start with a blank page. Every day is like that, but so many of us are unable to work without that calendar start, the thought that we've started something new. Bigger than just a new day, week or month. It's a bran new year.

Well, what I love most is a blank page. I used to love to buy notebooks full of lined paper so that I could fill them with my stories. Now, I have to deal with a blank computer page with a blinking cursor. For some reason, it's just not the same. I think it's the source of my writing blocks when I have them -- that dang cursor. It's like a blinking eye -- waiting and watching. Grin.

My goals this year are pretty much the same as last year. Submit something every month. Finish editing the stories I've finished. Get published -- even if it's just a magazine article. Write every day.

Believe it or not, that last one will be the hardest. I guess when it gets easier, the submitting and everything else will fall into place.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year and Christmas Movie Tag

By Nichole Giles

I never do this, and yet here I go, for the second week in a row, writing my blog hours after I should have posted it. But then, I have a good excuse. (Not that I need one.)

I could use the whole holiday / family time thing since my blog days have fallen on major federal and religious holidays both weeks, but today it’s more than that. First of all, I have a cold. It hit me a few days ago, the morning after I spent the evening cleaning up after my vomiting son. I started with the sniffles in the night and by morning, it was a full-blown virus. But I bought some Sudafed, downed some Ibuprophen and Green Tea, and I was surviving. Then, about an hour before ringing in the New Year, I was attacked by a children’s toy and sprained my wrist. It was a conspiracy, you see, to handicap me from the air hockey tournament that my husband and I were winning. Investigations are pending… (Little did they know I could play air hockey left-handed almost as well as right!)

After all that, I woke up this morning and the very last thing I wanted to do was turn on my computer and type. Actually, I didn’t really want to get out of bed, but I did.

Anyway, two weeks ago, my friend and fellow Blogger, Gaynell, tagged me for her favorite Christmas Movie blog. I’d planned to post my choices last week, but didn’t. So I hope you don’t mind if I do it today.

My five favorite Christmas movies are as follows:

1. Elf—because, there are just so many one-liners that my kids spout daily that never fail to make me laugh. Plus, the entire movie is just plain hilarious. It’s an instant classic.
2. While You Were Sleeping—because it’s just cute, and the dialogue is so true to life and humorous that I just can’t help but smile.
3. A Christmas Story—need I explain? “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
4. Jingle All the Way—It’s just so true to how holiday shopping can be if left to the last minute. Plus, it touches on the importance of spending time with family.
5. A Christmas Carol—actually, I prefer the play version of this, but there are a few good movie versions as well. I love the Disney one, actually.

I could have picked books or authors as well, but I chose to do movies because we’ve been watching them around here this week. Now, I'm tagging Ali Cross, Rachelle Christensen, and Cindy Beck.
Thanks for reading our blogs each week.

Happy New Year!

From the LDS Writer’s Blogck.