Thursday, April 30, 2009
The Future is Our Field
This past weekend I had a great opportunity. And even though it was great—really truly amazing—I’m not actually talking about the LDStorymakers writer’s conference. My husband and I were privileged to attend the second annual Whitney Awards Ceremony.
These awards are unlike any other literary awards I’ve seen, mainly because they were created to honor LDS authors and their work.
The atmosphere was festive as excited nominees mingled with attendees, eating a delectable dinner and sharing predictions of who would take home the trophies at the end of the night.
Author Robison Wells, founder and idea-man behind the newly prestigious awards, created the Whitney’s in honor of the apostle, Elder Orson F. Whitney. During his life, Elder Whitney was active in the arts, and had a love of drama, music, poetry and writing. His first book, “The Life of Heber C. Kimball” was published in 1888, and his second, “Poetical Writings” in 1889. I think it’s safe to say he was one of the original LDS authors.
A much loved quote of his spurred many early LDS authors to further their craft, and continues to inspire us—even a hundred and twenty years later. Elder Whitney said, “We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. God's ammunition is not exhausted. His brightest spirits are held in reserve for the latter times. In God's name and by his help we will build up a literature whose top shall touch heaven, though its foundations may now be low in earth.”
And so we write, and aim for the sky with our work, all hoping to someday be worthy of a nomination for the awards named after such a prolific man as brother Whitney. And we honor those who had the foresight and creativity to create the Whitney Award Foundation, especially Robison Wells, who took a great idea and turned it into a reality that will be continued on by LDS authors for generations to come.
Sadly, Rob announced his resignation from the Whitney Committee as the ceremony wound down. Running a foundation of this magnitude must be overwhelming, and Rob can’t run things forever, so he has turned over the reins to Kerry Blair—and we know she’ll do it right. We future Whitney winners will forever be grateful to Rob and his vision of the future—of our future—and what we can aim to accomplish with our writing. We can, in fact, change the world. Or, at least the lives of some people in it.
We are the writers of the future—the Miltons and Shakespeares of today’s LDS literature. But I can’t end on that note. Instead, I’ll borrow more of Elder Whitney’s words,
“Let us onward, then, and upward, keeping the goal in view; living not in the dead past, nor for the dying present. The future is our field. Eternity is before us.”
(I’m thinking we could put those words to music…go authors, go authors, go authors, go.)
Now, get writing!
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
A few nights ago, I watched a movie A Promise Kept: Oksana Baiul. It was a biography of a Ukranian figure-skating champion who overcame personal tragedies to win the 1994 Olympic gold medal in Lillehammer. That young girl was amazing and the things she overcame surprised me.
The movie reminded me of many of my writing friends who never give up. They take classes, and go to seminars and other workshops to learn the craft. Occasionally, some of them are free, but usually you have to pay a fee to attend. It takes lots of time to go to these conferences, but it’s important to learn the things taught.
Usually before they can even begin writing, they spend hours researching. Then you’d be surprised at how much time they spend writing each day, that is unless you are a writer. After the story is finished, there is still plenty of work left. The writing doesn’t end with the story. You still have editing to do, and queries or cover letters to write. Submitting your novel takes lots of time and money for all that ink, paper and postage. The entire process is difficult, and to become a writer you do have to have determination. Maybe someday all our work and expenses will pay off.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Cross-Dress for Success:
“The Man in the Red Dress”
I placed fourth in the LDStorymakers first-chapter writing contest in romance/women’s fiction over the weekend. I believe I’m the first male to ever place in the romance section of this contest. I think that’s a good thing.
To accept my women’s fiction award, I wore a long dark wig and a red dress, and ran while cheering to the podium. I did this in front of some 250 or more people, with representatives from most of the LDS publishers with whom I have an interest in publishing.
It seemed like such a good idea at the time.
This is the first time I’ve worn a dress in public. I am quite sure that everybody there will remember me, which I think is probably a good thing, too. Writing conferences are not just about learning from the classes, but networking with people in the industry and making an impression.
Well, a man with a mustache and goatee in a red dress, screaming and cheering as he runs to the front of the room, probably made some sort of an impression. If I want to remind anybody who I was at the conference, all I have to say is “the man in the red dress” and they’ll remember.
My writing group, Authors Incognito, told me if I won, I should accept my award under the name of D. D. Hunt (my real initials) while in a dress, but I told them “I ain’t wearing no stinkin’ dress!”
But the night before the winners were announced, I thought, “Oh, why not? Might be fun!” I didn’t, however, tell anyone what I was doing—after all, what if I didn’t win?
Well, I did win. Nichole had brought me a wig, which I think is all my writing group expected me to wear. (Well, along with my normal clothes—I mean, wearing a dress was like a weird dream, but not the one where you’re naked in public!)
Curiously, even the guest speaker I met there who wrote the script for Friday the 13th (Part 9): Jason Goes to “An Unpleasant Place” congratulated me on my contest win—and I wasn’t even wearing my red dress and wig at the time for him to recognize me.
Now I have to actually write the rest of the story that won. All I have is the rough-draft of a prologue that I wrote three years ago and found on my hard drive the night I was submitting to the contest. I don’t even know the main character’s name yet.
The title, however, is Butter Diggers. Sounds like a juicy romance, huh?
(Thanks to Nichole Giles and Connie Hall for the pictures.)
Monday, April 27, 2009
More of the Same
Sunday, April 26, 2009
With a Little Help From my Friends
I Joined Facebook back in November in order to promote my writing career. I started making writer friends. Most of those friends were friends already, but I began to make new friends and my circle increased in size.
Now, I have 217 friends (not all writers) but I have a small army of a network. That means if I happen to be having a book signing in almost any town, I can announce it on Facebook and some of my friends will come and support me.
At the recent LDStorymakers conference, I attended a publisher’s panel discussion, and listened to Lyle Mortimer, President of Cedar Fort, suggest writers join Facebook and make friends with him. I smiled because I already had. I’d been commenting on his wall, and he’d commented on mine.
Lyle is right. Now I have a friend who is a publisher. That friendship won’t nescisarily get me published, but it will get me looked at. My manuscripts will have a better chance of being printed.
This type of networking, however, is not new to the internet. I also, belong to other groups like Author’s Incognito. It’s an online support network exclusively for those who attended an LDStorymakers conference. The membership is growing, and those friends offer support and expertise. Often times, if I have a plotting question or problem, I can post it to the group and almost always, someone, who is an expert in one way or the other, will offer professional help. I can get first hand advice from medical people, police officers, even high school English teachers.
It's like Nichole said on Thursday, "We need a support system in which we feel a special kinship, one that gives us the ability to share knowledge with, and encourage each other."
Writing, and getting published, is easier because of my increasing circles of friends. In 1967 The Beatles recorded a song on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. The lyrics were, and can be, interpreted in many ways, but the relevant part for us is the first verse:
What would you think if I sang out of tune,
would you stand up and walk out on me.
Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song,
and I'll try not to sing out of key.
Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends,
I get high with a little help from my friends,
oh, I'm gonna try with a little help from my friends.
By changing the words slightly, we can relate this to writing instead of singing and then it becomes a theme song to sing when we need help with our writing. If you just launched your writing career, I suggest you start now, to build your network. Even if you never need their help, a person can always use a friend.
Good luck in your writing---see you next week.
Friday, April 24, 2009
How Determined are You?
While the rest of the bloggers worth their salt are at the LDStorymakers writing conference, I'm stuck home doing blogging duty...grin. I'll get my turn next year.
The original article that prompted the title of my blog was called "How do you know when to quit?" That article/blog was written in relation to the YouTube sensation of the Scottish woman who has made an outstanding show on Britain's Got Talent.
This blog is a combination of all of the above -- except for the Scottish woman, I have nothing to say about singing. (She really is amazing, if you haven't been one of the millions to look it up on the internet.) This blog is about writing, and that's what I'm going to focus on.
The article starts out commenting on the Scottish woman's desire to continue taking hold of every opportunity that came her way. They decided to tie that in with writing, submitting and the rejection process. The writer (Toni McGee Causey) then showcased a conference she'd gone to with a guest speaker. The speaker, Christie Craig, is apparently a well known author (though I've never heard of her) who writes funny, romantic, mystery stories (according to Toni).
At the conference, the author dragged a large wheeled suitcase out onto the stage, and talked about how she became an author, overcame her struggle with Dyslexia and worked to get her books out. She asked the audience, when they thought someone should quit submittting. Was it after the first 50 rejections? She then pulled a large Fed-Ex type envelope out of the suitcase opened it and pulled out a stack of papers to let them fall to the floor. "How about the next 50?" Another group of papers were dropped, and the writer could see the letter heads of the letters, so it wasn't a figurative thing -- these were actual rejection letters.
Let me quote the meat of her blog:
"“Or how about the next hundred?” she asked, and pulled another wad of pages out and let those rain down. “Three hundred? Is that when you quit?” And she emptied that envelope and reached into the suitcase and pulled out another one, and asked, “Or is it the first 500? Do you quit then?” Those papers kept raining down, “Or how about the next 500?” and more envelopes, more pages. “How about a 1000? Is that when you stop?” And at this point, I couldn’t have spoken if someone had held a gun on me, I was so choked up. “Or how about the second thousand?” More pages. “Or three? Is three thousand the point where you stop?”"
This whole experience astounded the writer. It amazed me as I read it. To imagine someone getting three thousand rejections and still keep going is mind boggling. Have you gotten anywhere close to that? I mean, we hear about John Grisham and his couple of what, hundred rejections? How about JK Rowling and her two hundred rejections? We hear all about the tenacity and determination of the writer who made the grade and got published, but I think this woman takes the prize.
I'm not sure I've got that kind of drive. I'd like to think I do, but I have to force myself to sit down and write as it is. If I had three thousand rejections sitting at my feet, I think it would be a pretty difficult stumbling block.
What would it take for you? I think it's an amazing story of encouragement and motivation for every writer. Each of you should print the original blog and post it by your computer so that every day you know that you haven't had as much to overcome. Perhaps your struggle to be a writer hasn't been as difficult. Of course each of us have our own obstacles, and perhaps to you, that is as bad as three thousand rejection letters.
I don't. I think I've run out of excuses. How about you?
Thursday, April 23, 2009
The Kinship of Other Writers
I’m having a hard time concentrating this week. For the first time in days I actually have some time to write, and I even have a few ideas to flesh out. But when I sit down in front of the computer, I end up staring at the blank screen for long minutes. Don’t worry, though. I know why.
This weekend is the annual LDS Storymakers writing conference. And I’m excited because it’s two whole days of spending time with other authors. People who understand me and support the work I love to do.
A strong support system is crucial in our line of work. When we’re stuck staring at the blank page, (like I am now) or needing some encouragement that writing really is worth the heartache, or when the rejections start rolling in, we all need someone who will be there to tell us, “Hey, I know you’re brilliant. And someday, the rest of the world will know it, too.”
Sure, we have our families, and our non-writer friends. We love them, and they love us. But unless they’re writers, it’s very difficult for them to understand what we’re going through, and what we’re trying to accomplish. Especially if they don’t read what we write, and sometimes, even if they do.
We need a support system in which we feel a special kinship, one that gives us the ability to share knowledge with and encourage each other. Who says conferences have to be all about learning? (Although, that’s another thing I’m excited about—we all are.) Sometimes, it’s also about spending time with people with whom we share a common love.
So I’m not getting much accomplished this week because I’m so looking forward to hanging out with my friends. And next week, I’ll be bursting with great ideas and working frantically to at least write them down before they’re lost and gone for good. Such is the nature of the conference. I can hardly wait!
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
This week marks the third anniversary of our blog ldswritersblogck.blogspot.com. That is three successful years or 36 months, or 156 weeks, or 1,095 days.
I want to thank those who have followed us during this time. Without our readers, this blog would be nothing.
This group of bloggers seems like family. I’m the mother, but only because I’m the oldest, and in reality, I have more experience since I have eighteen grandchildren. I have several daughters –
Cindy, Gaynell, Karen, Nichole and the newest one, Ali. Then we had to throw in a couple of sons – Darvell and Keith. Just like a family, they are always there to help me. I’ll never have the computer skills they all have, but that’s just like real life. My own kids have passed me by in their computer knowledge.
In these three years, I’ve not missed a week of posting an entry. It hasn’t always been easy because sometimes I traveled away from home, but with the help of Cindy and Nichole, my blog was always posted on time. There were times when I was up past the bewitching hour and thought, “It’s Wednesday.” I posted my blog only to find that it showed it was still Tuesday, even though my computer showed it the following day. Our moderator, Darvell, was quick to come to my rescue and fix things.
Since our blog is about writing, it hasn’t always been easy to think of something to post. All of us have had to stretch things at times. You would think we’d run out of things to say, but NO – for a writer there is always something to write. Keep visiting us and we’ll keep writing.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
The Evil Ride of Satan
Last week was spring break in our local school district, so we took a family trip to Las Vegas to see what sort of trouble we could find.
For the first time in my life, I was asked by a police officer if I had been drinking. That was a new experience for me—and writing is all about new experiences! To be fair, however, it was during a roadblock on Boulder Highway in Las Vegas and everybody was asked the question. My kids thought it was cool, though. The officer apparently believed my answer, because he didn’t add me to the pool of handcuffed motorists sitting in chairs by an RV they used for processing DUI offenders. That was one experience I certainly didn’t need, for my writing or not.
I also had the chance to observe what I called “The Evil Ride of Satan.” It wasn’t a decked-out sports car we saw (though we did see a Lamborghini while in town) or a customized chopper bike (though we did see a few motorcycle gangs).
None of my family has ever been to the AdventureDome at Circus Circus on the Las Vegas Strip, so we decided to correct that oversight. The place is like a mini-Lagoon, if you’re familiar with the amusement park in Utah that’s featured in that old Beach Boys song about Salt Lake City.
One of the rides consist of a series of spinning cages that travel around and around and around, and you can also spin the cage around and around and around, and then the whole circle of spinning cages turns on its side and spins vertically. Ughghgh. My head spun just watching it. My older kids tried it, but I think I’m too old for that nowadays. Wanting to experience new things for my writing goes only so far.
When my oldest son walked from the spinning mess of welded metal, bolts, and colorful paint, he had a big grin on his face. It’s good a police officer wasn’t there, because I don’t think my son could have walked a straight line at that moment—and the goofy grin just made him look even more intoxicated.
I frowned, shuddered, and promptly named the contraption: “The Evil Ride of Satan” and got myself hence from it.
Some things are just too scary to even look at, let alone experience.
Monday, April 20, 2009
How To Give a Helpful Critique
Saturday, April 18, 2009
In past posts it has been mentioned that saying things a certain way, or using grammar in wordage is important in your writing. I'd like to explore that a little today.
Since I am a avid reader as well as writer, I tend to pick up words that others do not. Part of this is a large vocabulary. My husband will be reading an article and say, "What the heck does that mean?" and I'll be able to tell him more often than not. My children are much the same way, depending on the genre. Someone who reads a lot of Victorian era romances will understand those type of words and perhaps use them more than someone who does not. However -- this does not mean that I use them a lot in my speech. Half the time I'm searching for the word I want to say instead of being able to enlighten someone with it.
This idea of using the words we know holds true for someone that works in a particular field. Lawyers tend to be more technical in nature and 'wordy' in description, simply because that is the way the job works. There are those who know how to use words in such a way as to bring humor much easier than some of us. I can think of funny things sometimes, but not as often as Cindy, one of our bloggers can. It seems as if her life is one humorous moment after another -- but that isn't always so. Sometimes you can just put the humorous spin on it and it becomes that.
Writing is not just about getting words down on paper. Sometimes it takes a special word, or combination of words to get a point across, and not only that, make it memorable or striking. So often we get caught up in the plot of the movie and our words loose their effectiveness. We don't want to be perceived as juvenile in our language -- but we don't want our readers to think we are too smart for them either.
There used to be a site that you could go to and have your blog evaluated as to what level of readers it would appeal/equate to. I did it once for my personal blog and I think it said it was high school level -- could have been jr high. Sigh. And I like to think I'm intelligent. Then again, I get frustrated when I do a check on my manuscript and it tells me the average length of word is 4 letters. That tells me that I tend to write simply in my stories...or perhaps I use a lot of connecting words that are short. Who knows.
What kind of vocabulary do you use in your writing?
Fair warning! I’m going to talk about romance again. "Oh no!" you say. "When is he going to give it a rest?" I promise I won’t make fun of the genre, because well, if you’ve followed my blog recently, you know, my new work in progress, although I intended it to be general fiction, has turned into romance.
I’m sure no one is more surprised than me about that. While looking at the Deseret Book catalogue, I saw the new books by Anita Stansfield, Rachel Ann Nunes, and Josi S Kilpack. I suddenly realized if I pull this off, if my book does well and I follow it with another and another, I could someday be counted as one of their contemporaries.
Is that a scary thought for you? Considering, I set out to become the next Dean Hughes, it definitely gives me cause to think. But then again, have you read his new book, Promises To Keep? It's a romance.
In the course of plotting my book, I discovered hidden talents. I think it surprises my critique group as much as it does me. They point out my usual bad writing mistakes, and show me places where I must learn to think more like a woman. The ladies continue to tell me to get into my character’s heads, because I’m writing for women, and the audience would like to experience the feelings. It’s a difficult balance to write like a man but make it intriguing to a woman.
It’s frustrating sometimes, but they’re right. I know it, and I’m grateful for those four ladies who have unending patience with me, especially, when my natural inclination is to argue. To be truthful, however, I am getting better, and they deserve a medal, but let me get to the point.
Back when I was more righteous, I served a mission in the Maritime Provinces of Canada. The schools up there had a program called French Immersion. For a period of time the student had to speak, read, and do everything in French. The other day, I noticed the marquee at a local elementary school referred to a Spanish Immersion program.
Like the programs above, I think my mind is immersing me in romance. I’ve noticed a change lately in the things I read, and the movies I watch. This was not a conscious effort, I assure you. I have been revisiting movies I watched years ago like; You’ve Got Mail, Casablanca, Sleepless in Seattle, Key Largo, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade, and Murphy’s Romance to name only a few. I’ve even been reading Nicholas Sparks. I catch myself analyzing character motives and feelings.
It seems my mind is determined to turn me into a romance author. It’s taking me into a new realm. I guess if it has its way, and if the ladies in my critique group keep having patience, I might end up as a contemporary of those ladies above . . . well, maybe someday.
We all know, one of the rules of good writing is to read, read, read. Especially the genre we write in. I never really read a lot of romance before, and you might laugh, considering what I’ve said in the past about romance, but this story has a desire to be told, and I’m learning as I go.
Good luck with your writing---see you next week.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
The Same Kind of Different
Three or four years ago, when I started writing seriously and hanging out with other authors, I discovered something interesting—a lot of writers thought like me.
For most of my life, I felt I was different from those around me. Okay, I’ll admit it; my “imaginative” way of thinking had me worried that I was weird. If, while at a restaurant, my friends noticed day planners and half-consumed burgers on a table—but no occupants in the chairs—they didn’t say, “Oh look, the employees sat there for a meeting and fell through a secret portal that took them to a parallel universe where a Griffindell ate them.”
On the other hand, a group of writers would not only believe a portal to a parallel universe is a plausible explanation for vacant seats, but they’d also each make up their own scenarios to explain what happened to the occupants.
I love that. I love the fact that as writers, we come in different sizes, shapes, and colors, but that we also have a commonality. We see the same grass, sky, and people as everyone else on the planet, but we put a twist on them. And not just when writing a story, but all the time. Even when we’re sleeping.
So the next time you’re feeling as if you don’t fit in—like a radish among the roses—stop by our blog and read what we have to say. We have the same dreams you do. We love to spin a story from the recesses of our imagination and write it down. We have hope that someday (preferably sooner than later) what we write will become published.
You see, that’s why you need us and we need you … because as writers, we’re all the same kind of different.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
I know you’ve all heard the expression, I bit the dust, but in reality, I actually bit the sidewalk a couple weeks ago. I don't ever remember the dog walking past dogs that were barking and not at least try to get to them. But this time while I was concentrating on lots of bleeding, the dog obediently walked home without pulling me all over the place.
By some miracle, I was okay, and except for having to have four stitches in my bottom lip, I haven’t had any trouble. After a few days, the swelling and bruising started to fade. I looked worse than I felt, but still had a big ugly scab on my lip. The week following the incident, I even attended the afternoon session of general conference. Things were almost back to normal.
I’m not telling you this to get sympathy, but I do have a reason. The biggest problem is eating. Yeah, I can afford to skip a few meals, but the lack of solid foods is really starting to be a concern. I guess you never miss something until it’s gone. I never thought I would say that I’m sick of yummy chocolate shakes. I’m also tired of soup, pudding, jell-o and applesauce. If I cut things in extra small pieces, I can get it past my lip to chew, but what I really want to do is bite into something like a hamburger or sandwich. I’m exhausted when I take the time to chew these small pieces and it’s easier to eat the soft stuff.
The main difficulty is writing. My brain isn’t working, and I’m not getting any stories done. I would rather curl up on the couch and read a book or watch television. This is not like me. I don’t hurt that much, so why don’t I want to sit at the computer? This blog is about all that’s coming out of me this week. I guess this just shows that a writer’s brain is definitely connected to their physical well-being. We can’t get all banged up, or eat junk food constantly, or go without needed sleep, and not have it affect our desire to write. At least that’s my excuse this week.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Interestingly, though, this story taught me something about writing that I wasn’t expecting. A few days ago, I was watching the news about these modern-day pirates, well before the hostage situation was resolved and before the pirates had been killed.
I said to my wife, "Man, what they need is Jack to take care of the situation!" (Meaning Jack Bauer).
My wife turned to me and said, "Jack Sparrow?"
I laughed. The minor confusion was funny, but it also helped me to realize that a reader isn't always going to know what you were thinking unless you make it very clear in your writing. I'm not exactly sure how Jack Sparrow of The Pirates of the Caribbean could have helped the hostage situation in the Indian Ocean, but I'm quite sure that Jack Bauer of 24 could have. Not knowing which Jack would certainly not have helped the situation for someone reading about it.
Unfortunately, unclear writing problems like this are often hard to see. You sometimes need an extra set of eyes to spot chances for these misunderstandings. A good critiquer can help not only with typos and grammar problems, but also with clarity and plot problems as well.
Just another reason to find yourself a writing group.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Writers With Crocodile Skin
I’ve mentioned that I belong to a critique group. I am also a member of Authors Incognito which includes a group of writers who are willing to critique for other members. However, at last year’s LDStorymaker’s conference, a class was given on the importance of meeting as a critique group and it prompted me to give it a try.
I am an adoptive daughter of the technological age, so I generally prefer to do things via the internet and my computer. Meeting up with a group of people, strangers even, and inviting them to not just read my work but to comment on it, was a bit disconcerting. Scratch that—it was terrifying.
We weren’t forming this group so we could tell each other how wonderful we all are. We were starting it so we could help each other be better writers, meaning, we would be giving criticism.
No matter that it has always been constructive criticism, and given to help the writer, not hinder her, it still hurts.
You know that saying “Make like a duck in water”? Well, writers need to make like crocodiles.
Crocodiles have thick scaly skin that wears like armor. But there are chinks in that armor—making it the perfect sort of skin for a writer.
As a writer, you need to have thick skin. You have to be able to let the bad advice or unhelpful criticism roll off your back, like a reptile in water, but you also have to be able to let the good advice slip in, like oxygen, through your thick scales.
Crocs aren’t pretty, to be sure, but make one your mascot and you’ll soon find yourself much more able to receive criticism without letting your tender parts get too damaged.
Fellow critiquers can be your best friends in your journey toward being published. Good critiques will help you tighten your work, get you over hurdles you can’t see your way around, and provide you with a wonderful camaraderie that will be a boon to you during times of struggle.
However, don’t forget to wear your crocodile skin when you head out to your next meeting—your friends aren’t there to rip you to shreds, they’re trying to help you. Take what’s good, and let the rest slide. But remember to be well fortified.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
What a Hit!
Friday I was a presenter at the American Fork Junior High Writing Conference. I had to get up at 5:30 to be there by 8:15 and took the back road through Cedar Fort. Everything was fine until twenty-five minutes into my drive two deer stepped into the road in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and tried to swerve but still ended up hitting the back end of the last one with the passenger corner of my van. It broke my heart to know I'd hit the deer much more than it did to see the slightly buckled hood. The last time I hit a deer I cried when the guy who stopped to help me said "Oh, it's just a baby!" I did not cry over my totaled vehicle. Anyway, I was able to drive on, but my heart was heavy.
I arrived at the conference five minutes late but they were totally understanding when I told them why. I was running on three hours of sleep since inspiration didn't hit me until the night before. I created my first Powerpoint presentation and am now a HUGE fan. I taught the kids about where writers find their ideas or How to Become an Idea Factory (Thanks, Kristi, for the phrasing inspiration!) It went awesome.
I had twenty to thirty kids raising their hands at a time when I asked them questions. They got really excited about the topic. About half-way through, after teaching them about the "what if?" game, I gave them a five minute exercise to use the technique to write while I ran to the bathroom. Very important not to pee your pants in front of the kids.
From there we talked about using all of your senses to get inspiration. I played a few music clips for them from different types of music they would't normally listen to. I showed them a few pictures to inspire thought. We talked about smell and how it brings up memories and creates pictures in the mind. What was the most awesome part of the whole thing was seeing it click for them. They got it and it was thrilling knowing I got to be a part of that.
After my friend Haley did her presentation and the kids took a short break, one of the students approached me and said "can I have your autograph?" You could have knocked me over with a breath. It had never even occurred to me that these guys would think of me that way. I wasn't going to say no, so I spent the next thirty minutes signing autographs for kid after kid after kid. It was one of the most humbling and happy moments of my post-writing life. I felt a bit like a pretender since I didn't have any books to sign, but I didn't care, not really. I kept thinking this must be what it feels like to be a real author. One of these days I'll have a book to sign, but in the meantime this will do.
I hope they ask me back again or I have the chance to do more things like this. I love teaching teenagers and I think I'm good at it. I have always felt like teaching was one of my purposes in life and it felt great to have an opportunity to teach something I love so passionately.
Anyway, despite the bad start to the morning, it ended up being an amazing experience. I even gave them a handout with quotes from several of my Authors Incognito writing friends about where they get their ideas and the kids (and even some of the adults) seemed really excited by it.
Today I feel blessed. Very, very blessed.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Don't Overlook an Idea
One day, during a recent hospital vigil, I went looking for a private place. I needed to get away, shed a few tears, and try to put my life in perspective. Going down in the elevator, I remembered the chapel.
Sitting in the back, in the comfortable chairs I removed my glasses and rubbed my face. Everyone has those moments, and I had one of mine. After a while, I began to notice the cut glass mosaic behind the pulpit. I saw the rose depicted in colored glass. I followed the sweeping lines of the leaves and traced the layers of the rosebud.
I finished my moment, and squared my shoulders, willing myself to go on. I put my glasses on and glanced at the mosaic again. It had changed---the rose had turned into pieces of cut glass arranged in uncertain patterns. I visualized where the rose had been, but my mind could not focus on it.
I alternated between glasses on and glasses off for a few minutes, and marveled at the contradiction. My glasses might be the wrong prescription, but they usually provide clarity of vision.
I don’t know why I couldn’t see the rose with my glasses on, but the experience provided distraction from my troubles, and I am grateful for it.
As a writer, I search my mind and experiences with life to find plot direction. I tend to overlook the silly or unbelievable, thinking the reader would never believe it, or it would change the whole direction the book is supposed to go. So, I ignore those thoughts trying to bring my mind into sharper focus.
I wonder what would happen if I took off my glasses and ran with the unusual? It might take my book in refreshing and publishable directions. I have a friend in my critique group who did that. She writes historical fiction with serious subjects. One night, she and her husband got silly, joking around with what if scenarios. The result of that laugh fest will be a wonderful light-hearted series of books everyone will love, and they are not historical.
Maybe sometimes we should take off our writer’s glasses and enjoy the view. If nothing else we could have a wonderful time exploring the silly. Perhaps we should stop taking ourselves so seriously. It’s true, we can’t all write humor but like the time I spent in the chapel, sometimes we all need a little distraction.
Good luck with your writing---see you next week.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Filing Away the Stories
My daughter has a small 2 drawer filing cabinet in her closet that's stuffed full. She has another box full of notebooks in her closet, that're full of the same thing; story ideas. She gets more story ideas than anyone I've ever seen. It's astounding the amount of stories that have popped into her brain.
The problem is, when she gets them, she has to hurry and write them down, or she forgets them and then they're lost. This sounds like me. Anything can bring them on -- a story, a conversation, a dream, someone else relaying an experience, a story she's reading...you name it, she's come up with something from it.
Her only problem is, she never does anything with them. That’s not good.
We've tried to get her to finish at least one of her stories. She has one that she's written only the prologue and first chapter, but it's truly amazing. I've told her how much I love it and how she should enter the chapter in Orson Scott Card's one chapter contest, but she doesn't seem to be motivated. It's really good. It's enough to drive me crazy.
I get story ideas (obviously, or I wouldn't be a writer) and I try to make a brief note about the basic idea somewhere on paper. When I've been at work, I've emailed the idea to myself so that I have it. When I'm in a car driving, I have to rehearse it over and over so I don't forget it before I get somewhere that I can write it down. If I'm the passenger, I'm desperately searching for a napkin or something, because unlike most of my organized writing friends, I never carry a notebook around with me. Sigh.
My daughter, on the other hand, ALWAYS has some kind of notebook with her. She has all the earmarks of a great writer, except she never writes. Well, okay, perhaps never is too strong...RARELY writes consistently.
Darvell mentioned how he doesn't write every day. In fact, sometimes he'll go for a couple of weeks without writing and then write like crazy. But -- at least he writes.
I try very hard to write something every day. I don't always make it, but I'm glad when I do because I feel that I've accomplished something that day. Most day's it's just a blog entry, but that's okay too.
I shudder to think about all the stories my daughter locked up inside that filing cabinet, never to see the light of day. Because even if she did write every day, maybe two hours a day, she would never get to the bottom of that pile.
Never. Don't you think that's the saddest thing you've ever heard? It makes me think of a story...
Thursday, April 09, 2009
The Trick to Finding Inspiration
As you dive headlong into the world of writing, it’s inevitable that you’ll hear the following question uncountable times. “Where do you get your inspiration?”
Well, okay. It may not be phrased exactly that way. There are probably thousands of variations that in the end come out to be the same question. How do you know what to write? And truthfully, every author will likely give you an entirely unique answer. No two people think or believe exactly the same things—no matter what your religion or what political party you support. So, it goes without saying that no two authors will get the same ideas from the exact same source.
There is no magic well from which we can draw inspiration when we’re feeling unable to write. No super-writing pill that promises to help us produce a New York Times bestseller after we’ve taken it for six weeks. Even M&M’s can’t do that. And I’ll tell you a secret. You can attend thousands of writing classes, conferences, and groups, but no one there will stick you in the arm with a needle full of ideas.
The trick, I think, is paying attention to life. All around us are beautiful, inspiring things. Moments that steal our breath and leave us gasping for air. Hurtful, angry, joyful, happy, excited, nervous moments—they all give us the experience and knowledge we need in order to write. Sometimes, I find myself inspired by songs on the radio, or staring at the moon in the night sky, or watching my children sleep. I watch the news and feel sick by some things, and encouraged by others. By reading the newspaper, I can come up with scenarios, plot points, and characterizations that merge together in my mind to create a brilliant idea.
On sunny days when the air is warm enough for me to drive around with my convertible top down, that’s inspiring to me too. Just to drive. Just to feel, to breathe in and out and let the sun warm my skin. Life is full of these valuable little moments, full of stories. And every person has hundreds—if not thousands—to tell.
So really, the problem is not so much coming up with a story idea, but finding the right words to tell it. That’s the thing for which we need inspiration, and the reason we need those classes, conferences, and groups. Because just being in the same room with other authors has a tendency to set your word finder spinning and help you get that story out of your head and onto paper (or screen.)
Next time someone asks you where you get your ideas, tell them to take a good look around. They’re everywhere.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Many times throughout the years, I’ve felt overwhelmed when asked to serve in the church, but never as much as I am now. Usually I’m anxious to try something different, and love new challenges, but being the stake music chairman is certainly out of my league. Yeah, I know I can do it because when they set me apart they said I could, but it’s scary.
It feels like my musical training was over a hundred years ago and my memory isn’t so great anymore. The only skills I have going for me is that through the years, I’ve learned how to delegate and I’m a good organizer. In high school, this calling would have been a cinch. Weekly I performed in front of other people, singing a solo, playing the violin or dancing a jig. Music was my life.
At this point in my life, I’m way out of my comfort zone and I’d rather sit behind my computer and write a story. I probably don’t know how to write any better than I understand all the musical terms, but it’s safe and relaxing. No one is watching me. If my writing stinks, I don’t have to show it to anyone. I can throw it out, or delete it with one quick click of a button.
Writing is comfortable and fun. I’m happy and content when I’m in front of my computer. It’s a cozy secure feeling. There’s nothing I’d rather do than write 24/7.
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
I write really fast, but then take long breaks between stories. I call this speed writing.
I was trying to think of something to write about for today, but nothing hit me. This, unfortunately, is typical of my writing history. I’ve written quite a backlog of novels, mostly for practice, it seems, so it’s not that I don’t write much, but most of the time I am not writing.
That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped--it just means I’m in the “fermentation stage.” But what does that mean?
About three years ago, I had an idea for a children’s chapter book, but I wasn’t sure how to do it. It wasn’t just a story, but employed a fun gimmick that I thought kids would like. The problem was, that it took me about 2 ½ years to figure out how to make it work. Of course, during that time, I was also working on other books and “fermenting” other ideas, but this chapter book was always in the back of my mind.
About eight months ago, I decided it was time to start. I wrote 14 chapters over five days, but wasn’t sure how to end it. So, I put it back in the fermentation stage. Six months later, I pulled it out, wrote for two more days, and finished the rough draft at 17 chapters and around 30,000 words. I very much like it.
But now, when people ask me how long it took for me to write it, I don’t know what to say. The correct answer could be seven days. That’s probably the best response, because it will amaze and astound my friends that I wrote it so quickly, but yet, that's not quite true.
I am a speed writer. Like any sprint runner, I train and train over a long period of time. I keep the story in my head until I think it's sufficiently formed. I spend time pondering and plotting, creating characters and motivations, but write nothing until I know what I’m doing. Once I hear the starter pistol, though, I’m off, and I don’t stop until I’m done. The quicker I write, the more cohesive I think the story becomes, because I can remember the whole plot and the characters all at once. It's what works for me.
I once wrote a 90,000-word novel in 30 days—and about eight of those days I wrote nothing at all (it was during November with Thanksgiving in the middle). This story was some of the best stuff I’ve ever written, but, to be fair, it was in the planning stage for about three years.
I don’t write every day. I probably never will. Sometimes I don’t even write for weeks. But I’m always a writer and always thinking about what's going into my next story. Perhaps I’m weird, but then again, don’t you have to be a little weird to even want to write fiction?
I think so. What a curious lot we fiction writers are.
Monday, April 06, 2009
Be Not Ashamed
By Ali Cross
At a recent critique group meeting, we discussed the effect our values have on our writing. Two of us are writing young adult fiction for the national market and in so doing have found our characters caught up in the troubles of the world. It’s necessary for them to be there, to be challenged, tested and tried, as young adults are these days—but we also have a responsibility to our faith, to our beliefs and even to our God to not compromise our righteousness for the sake of selling a book.
In Psalms 119:80 we read, “Let my heart be sound in thy statutes; that I be not ashamed.”
An LDS author who had published a best-selling book in the national market was once asked on a syndicated talk show if her religion had any bearing on the work she had written. To my dismay, this author replied that no, in fact, it had not.
If I should ever have the opportunity to be in a similar position, I hope I could respond that my religion had everything to do with my book. It is a fallacy to believe that as writers our religion holds no sway. Latter Day Saints are a mystery and a fascination to the world at large and people will always read what we write with greater attention to the proof of our faith.
We must write in a fashion that is in keeping with the covenants we have made, to the faith that we profess to hold. While in writing, as in our very lives, we find ourselves in the world, we must also hold ourselves apart from the world.
Such a mandate can be quite a challenge for us—our characters must similarly be in the world but not of the world. It is not true that in order to sell our books they must be sensational and titillating. I think that most people hunger for truth and righteousness, but they just don’t know where to find it, how to find it, or even how to recognize it once they do.
That’s where we, as Latter Day Saint writers, can be powerful instruments in God’s hands.
If we are prayerful in our craft, we may be blessed to create stories that are contemporary and immediate enough to reach that national market for which we strive, but that carry with them a truth and goodness that is so desperately needed in the world today.
It’s not easy, but we can do it. We must do it, if we wish to stand spotless before the throne of God. “O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee” (Psalms 25:20.)
Trust in the Lord, let Him be your partner as you write, and you will find a way to be true to yourself, to your faith and to your God—and still find success in your writing.
Saturday, April 04, 2009
The Extension of Light
Friday, April 03, 2009
In my critique group we talked about how we viewed our stories. One of them said he'd heard we should be able to pitch our story in one or two sentences. If it takes a long discourse to describe it, you're going to loose the editor/agent/listener within the first minute. The same holds true for how you think of it. Is the plot too complex? Nothing should be too hard to get down into one or two sentences.
And that's the tricky part.
We all attempted to outline our stories into one or two sentences, and most of us were able to do it in one. The problem to me, it felt -- not enough. So I think I need to work through it and see which one comes out the best.
The idea was brought up because one of our members had been told if an editor or someone representing a publishing house asks you about what your working on, you should be able to pitch it in a simple and attention catching sentence so they'll remember you and your story. Sometimes that's easier said than done, but with a little practice, everyone can do it.
Here's what I came up with for the story I've been having them critique for me:
Three women, friends since high school, take a yearly vacation together. This year's trip is to Hawaii and they discover a briefcase with a mystery, a cowboy from Wyoming, and someone who's willing to kill for what they've discovered.
Or this one from another story:
Angela Barker has left Astoria, Oregon in her past, yet finds herself drawn back by an invitation. Once there she finds love, danger and discovers there are some things you can't hide from.
Did either of those catch your attention? It's not too hard when you're typing -- you can edit and change and rework it on the page. If you've done this several times and know these lines, it will be fresh in your brain when the opportunity comes.
I would recommend doing this for all the stories you've finished and plan to submit. Since I have several stories that I'm trying to edit and get submitted, I've got a lot of work ahead of me. Guess I'd better get crackin'....
Thursday, April 02, 2009
Here I am, with a finished novel. And I know—in my gut and with the help of feedback from other authors—this one is better than anything I’ve ever written. So, I’m researching and considering, and getting ready to submit.
But it occurs to me that not everyone understands what that means. My neighbor asked about my book yesterday, and I boldly admitted I’m looking into agents and editors to whom I can submit now. And she said, “Wow, that’s so exciting.”
But I thought, “No, how terrifying!”
I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me, it’s more than sending my baby out into the world. It’s me sending a part of my physical self. Part of my actual heart. And it’s really hard to know that, yes, it will get rejected before it’s accepted. But I understand why, and how it all works, and I WILL get submitting. (Though I have already warned my family to expect tears when those rejections come in.)
My good friend and fellow blogger, Ali, asked me last week what I do when I finish a book. And since I know she has a few books finished, I thought I’d do a blog about that very subject.
Once I finish editing, polishing, and cleaning up the last word on the last page (and here I’ll throw in that you can polish a manuscript to death—literally—so don’t spend forever on it.) It’s time to do some research. Where are you submitting? Most LDS publishers accept full manuscripts for fiction. So, write a nice, short cover letter (instructions follow in a minute) package, and send the whole thing.
If you’re submitting to national editors and / or agents, you’ll probably need to write a synopsis. I could go into big details here, but in this area I’m no expert. Instead, I’m going to refer you to Heather Moore and Josi Kilpack, who ARE experts in this field. They’ve posted some articles at Writing on the Wall explaining in detail the art and technicalities of writing synopses. Listen to these ladies; they know what they’re talking about!
Once your synopsis (or possibly synopses, since every agent or editor wants something different) is ready, it’s time to put to use all that research you’ve (hopefully) done during your writing journey. Have you been to a conference or two where you’ve met an agent or editor with whom you feel you could work well? Did you have a specific agency in mind? If not, maybe you should. A good way to figure out where to look is by going to the library and reading the names of agents and editors in the acknowledgement section of your favorite books—especially those similar to yours. I suggest investigating those first, and then branching out from there.
A tip I’ve heard several times: query junior agents. They’re often looking for the “Next Big Thing” to boost them up the ladder, and may be more open to new authors than the senior editors or agents in the firm.
Once you’ve decided to whom and where you’re going to submit, it’s time to write the query. And yes, there’s a reason I left this for last. A query should be personalized to whomever you’re sending it. If you’ve met this person before, mention it. If not, mention other books they’ve edited or represented, and why you liked them. Add a line about why you think your book would fit in with other things they edit or represent. Then give a ONE PARAGRAPH pitch for your book. (Some editors don’t read these until after they’ve read the first chapter, but it still has to be sparkling clean and catchy.) Throw in a paragraph about yourself, including your training, any writing credits, awards, and things of that nature—but don’t go too overboard. Make sure you keep this letter to ONE PAGE.
Now, depending on the person, they may ask for a certain number of submitted pages. Or they’ll ask for the first chapter, or two, or even three and a synopsis. Read their submission instructions carefully and follow directions exactly. If you’re submitting by snail mail, you should use mid-high quality paper, make sure everything is printed legibly and without ink smears, and never, ever staple anything together. Paperclips are acceptable, but never staples.
I’m not sure there’s a right or wrong way to put your package together, but I generally put the synopsis on the bottom, the chapters or pages on top of that, and the letter front and center. In the past, I’ve inserted a business card, but mine are now way outdated, so until I get more printed, I’ll leave that out. Slide the entire shebang into an envelope—or box—and print your labels on the computer, so you can make sure no postal carrier has any excuse to deliver it to the wrong address. (A note as mentioned by a national market editor at a conference: Never tape your submission envelope so well that they have to get out a sword to hack through it. They may decide it isn’t worth the effort. And also, ONE envelope or box will do, do not separate your chapters.)
Now, march your tail over to the post office and mail that thing. (Or things, if you’re submitting simultaneously.) Then, go home, mark it on your calendar or submission chart, and get right to work on a new project so you don’t drive yourself crazy with waiting to hear back.
And my friends, the inevitable truth is, we will all get rejections. All real writers do. So, make yourself a list and be prepared so that when that first rejection comes, you know exactly what to do and where to submit next. And then follow through. And follow through again. And keep following through because eventually, someone will see that your manuscript is a diamond in the rough and snatch it up.
Don’t let rejections break you from your writing desire. Keep going, no matter how many rejections you get. Keep writing, like your life—your very breath—depends on it. And keep submitting, because you’ll never get accepted if you don’t.
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Today is the day set aside for good-hearted pranks, hoaxes, gags, and many laughs. As a kid, I could hardly wait for April 1st to arrive. Even as an adult, I’ve had great fun – usually at someone else’s expense. The best trick I ever played on April Fools was when I was the bookkeeper at a wholesale company. That eventful morning, I made up special bills for some of the employee’s including the big boss. I secretly distributed the bills to the designated people, and then I cleared the machine deleting all the fake bills and began my regular work.
The suspense was killing me and it was hard to concentrate. I didn’t have long to wait before employees started calling or showing up at the front desk confronting the office manager with their latest bill. Since she was a good friend of mine, and knew of my bad deed, she assured each person she didn’t know how this had happened and she would take care of it. After they left, we both giggled and waited for the next victim. Anxiously we were both watching for the Big Man to confront us.
It took a while, because unbeknownst to us, he had called his wife and was royally cussing her out. “How could you buy so many teddy bears,” he yelled.
Eventually he stormed to the front office, waving the bill, and yelling, “Barbara said she didn’t buy these.”
We both kept a straight face and watched him having his temper tantrum. After a few minutes, he stopped yelling. “Connie, my wife said this is a just a joke. Is she right?”
By this time, I was a bit scared, and meekly nodded my head. He burst out laughing. “I told Barbara she was wrong. No one would pull a joke like this on me.”
Word spread fast and soon everyone in the area was laughing with him. Later he told me that was the best joke anyone had every played on him. He was grateful for the fun I had created, and I certainly breathed a sigh of relief – I wouldn’t lose my job today. His wife even called later in the day and thanked me for bringing so much laughter to the office.
Now, I’m a little more careful when I unleash the devil inside me. Some people probably wish I would keep my pranks to only this one day of the year, but that’s not possible. I grew up in a family who liked to pull jokes frequently. Some of my mother’s party gag’s included a glass that leaked, a fork that bent when you picked it up, and a spoon with a clear seal over the top so no one could pick up anything. With parents like this, I didn’t have a chance to grow up normal.
Nope, this really doesn’t have anything to do with writing, other than the fact that I’m retelling a story and writing this. Have a happy April Fool’s Day.