Saturday, February 27, 2010

Conjecture, Tapping Into our Minds

By Keith Fisher

While cleaning the bedroom the other day, I stumbled across a pair of shoes I haven’t seen in a year. The shoes are made for river rafting and things like that, semi closed in but open enough to make your feet feel free.

To say, I hadn’t seen them, is only part of the story, however. I forgot I owned them. Perhaps my mind was protecting me. Well, let me explain.

As you might remember, we lost my father to a fast growing cancer in March of 2009. Several months before he knew he was dying, he gave me the pair of shoes. He said they were too big for him, they looked cool, and felt great. I wore them on cold, snowy days, because they were comfortable. I wore them at the hospital when Dad was dying.

Sometime after he died, I stopped wearing the shoes I don’t remember making a conscious decision. I just wore other shoes. Dad’s shoes ended up in the back of my closet.

When I found them, I sat down, to put them on. Thoughts of my father, his life, and the turbulent time during his death, flooded my mind. The reality of missing him hit me harder than it had before.

As I mentioned in a blog last year, I’m happy for Dad. He had a degenerative eye problem that was taking his sight. In 1986, he was the victim of an industrial accident, so his health had been deteriorating for years. I spoke to him before he died, and he was happy about the prospect of being able to see again.

Putting on his shoes, took my mind past the logical, and forced me into the emotional side of losing him. Dad was my best friend, and I miss him. I know a little about grief, and what I experienced was normal. I’m fine, but the incident pointed out a writing concept to me, and I wanted to share.

Did you ever notice how different objects conjure up different memories and thoughts? Like my father’s shoes, other objects bring back memories, both good and bad. Our need to stay connected, is the reason we keep trophies. We hold onto scraps of paper because our child drew a picture on it. I’m keeping a pacifier that reminds me of the day my daughter decided she was tired of sucking on her binky and gave it up for good.

My point, if you haven’t figured it out, is we carry an arsenal of experiences wherever we go. Nested in our computer hard drive we call the brain. We can retrieve the data anytime and insert it into a story, but sometimes it takes a little jog in our memory to recall the facts. That’s why writing prompts are so effective in getting the juices flowing.

My critique group told me I’m good at plotting. I can take a situation or object and build a story on it. I thought everyone could do that, but apparently we can’t. So, I suggest you pick up an object and try to imagine how you could use that object in, say committing a murder. Before you think you can drop the object in favor of a knife, or a heavy lamp, I want you to close your eyes and get on the floor. Pick up one of the scattered toys in your family room. Now, that is your murder weapon.

Adapt this exercise to different scenarios, and eventually you will tap into a place where ideas come from. This is a good writer’s party game, by the way.

Now I want you to imagine. You’re walking in the desert. Miles from anywhere, and you glance at the ground. Sitting on top of the sand is an old, rusty spoon. How did it get there? How old is it?

Here is another one. In a graveyard, you find a headstone with a unique signet inscribed above the name. It’s identical to the ring you purchased at a yard sale. You turn around and the signet is on another headstone. Ask your questions.

Imaging what it was like, coupled with known facts and a recent discovery, inspired the blockbuster movie, Titanic.

How many of you wonder what really happened to Amelia Earheart and Fred noonan? I can think of dozens of possibilities, starting with the fact of a faster jet stream.

Open your mind to conjecture. That’s where plots come from. The reason objects conjure memories for you, is the same reason you can write plots. If you tap into it, you might find you have too many plot lines to explore. Then, it’s just a matter of choosing the best one.

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

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Human Factor

by G.Parker

If you're as into figure skating as I am, then you've been watching the young women skating this week with much anticipation, amazement and admiration. Especially one young woman, that I think will go down in history.

She won a Bronze metal last night, but I think she won over the world. The Canadian skater, Joannie Rochette, lost her mother Sunday -- two days before the competition began. Many of us have lost a parent, and we know how difficult it is to function at all, let alone perform amazing athletics. She did an amazing program on Tuesday, and then burst into tears. I think everyone cried along with her.

It's the stuff stories are made from, are full of and make us want to read more. If this were a book, we'd be anxiously awaiting how she dealt with life from now on. Does she meet someone that helps her get through it? Is she a strength to her father? Those are all questions that we have as we read a book that really pulls us in. It's the human factor. The part that makes us feel apart of whatever is going on. We can sympathize and feel the emotions the character is going through.

This will be my last Olympic entry, since the games end Sunday. Once again I will be sad to see them go, but it will be a relief to get back on with running my household and back to writing. Yes, I've been neglecting it shamefully, but now I have lots of material to store away for future thought and characters.

Lot's of the human factor.

See you next week!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Get a Grip

By Nichole Giles

Part of my job as a writer/author is reading. It’s important that I see what’s selling, what’s out in the market, and where trends are taking us. Really, truly the best way for me to hone my skills and my own style is to read work put out by other authors.

Needless to say, I read a lot. Recently I read a series of books that was extremely compelling. The author’s style is very different—third person present tense—but the characters are solid, likeable with faults, and the story line intriguing. These are all important elements of a good story. I read the first book in the series (one that had been sitting on my dresser for more than a month) in one evening.

It’s the kind of book you pick up and don’t put down until you’ve finished. I love those books. Anyway, the next day I had to go buy the second book, because of course, there were no copies available in the library. So I bought book number two, then tracked down details on the release of number three, which, as luck would have it, was a week away.

Remember, I loved book one, so I was way excited to know I was going to spend two more books worth of time with these characters and this story. Unfortunately, book two was something of a letdown. The characters and style were still wonderful and compelling, but the plot—well, let’s just say there were several plot elements that fell apart in the realism department.

The sad thing is that the breakdown was preventable. The things that were wrong should have been researched, just a little, for the sake of realism. Because, in my opinion, if you’re going to set a book in contemporary society, even if you’re working with fantastical elements, you still have to stay true to that society setting. So, we have these fabulous characters and this killer dialogue, great setting, but the author doesn’t bother to check her facts, and ends up taking the story into a gray area that is obviously, glaringly impossible, thus unbelievable. So basically, the reader can believe the made-up fantastical elements, but we’ve now lost our balance because we’ve surpassed the plane of realism in the plot.

Thus, the reason book two flopped. But I still loved the characters, still felt compelled to read, and moved on to book three. Luckily, book three veered back on course and got back to where the story should’ve gone in the first place, and the author redeemed herself in that aspect. Still, the book two issue shouldn’t have happened. As I mentioned before, it was preventable with a little bit of extra work.

Why am I telling you this? I think as authors it can be really easy to lose our grip on character, plot or other important elements of our writing. Even once we’ve written a fabulous bestselling book, it’s possible for us to go off on a tangent, into an area that our characters or our story really shouldn’t explore. It’s our job to be careful of these dangers, because otherwise we risk letting our readers down.

My teenage son also read the series, and as soon as he finished book two, came running up to me to voice his frustration—which turned out to be the exact same one I had. So, I wasn’t the only one who picked up on the plot fail. YA writers take note: kids are every bit as smart as us. The only difference between adults and teenagers is life experience, which they’re getting every day.

As you develop your story, ask yourself a few questions: Would my character really do this? Would the other people in the story really allow this to happen the way I’ve written it? Have I missed an important step between two plot points? Is this scene, chapter, or storyline relevant to the outcome of the book or series? How relevant? And one last one: Is there someone I can call who will verify facts and procedures in my most important scenes? (This is a big one. Just because we see it on TV doesn’t make it realistic.)

Tip: if you need verification on something, get out the phone book and make some calls. Call a police department, the FBI, a science lab, wherever, and tell them, “I’m writing a book and have a few questions about____. Is there someone I can talk to who can chat with me for a few minutes?” In most cases someone in the office will jump at the chance to help you out. I encountered this when I had to call the national archives to get court documents as research for my book, The Sharp Edge of a Knife. Those guys practically jumped through hoops for me. Try it. It’s actually not only educational, but fun.

Give it some thought, then go read some more books. Oh, and incidentally, I’ve finished my entire February reading list and then some, and am now up for suggestions on what to read in March. Ideas? Thoughts?

Until next time, write on.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Read a Book Every Week

by C. LaRene Hall

My New Year goal or resolution said that I will read a book every week, including some self-help ones that I usually toss aside. Since I love to read this is the easiest thing that I chose to do.

I usually don’t have trouble reading a book every week, but since the book that I just finished is over 800 pages, it took me almost three weeks to read it. Reading is one of my favorite things to do. The last part of the goal is harder because I would much rather read fiction than non-fiction. Sometime this year I promise I will read a self-help book, it just won’t be until I finish a couple of other books and a new book that is coming out in April.

I’m a supporter of the Literacy program. It delights me when I see one of my grandchildren enjoying a good book. They know that their grandma gives them books. I do that because I know how important reading should be to every individual alive. Even if they don’t like to read, I try to pick something that they might like, hoping it will encourage them to read.

Since I’ve won several contests, and have been to several book signings recently, I have more than enough books on my shelf to keep me busy. Some of my friends are having new books published sometime in the near future and so my stash is going to continue to grow huge. I love giving book reviews, and do so regularly. I guess it’s good that I found something on my New Year’s Resolutions list that was easy for me.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Reading, ’Riting & ’Rithmetic

By Ali Cross

As a child in Canada, I often heard about “reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic. This was the focus of every child’s education: They called it the Three R’s of Learning.

For some reason the Three R’s have been dancing around my head a lot lately and it’s driving me crazy! I mean, why in the world would I be thinking about the Three R’s? So when in doubt, I write. And here I am.

But this is a writing blog, so now I have to figure out how I can relate the Three R’s with writing and you know? It’s not that hard.

The first “R” is reading. It might seem obvious, but many writers fail to give proper attention to the importance of reading in their career. It’s easy to see how reading could take a back seat. While reading someone else’s work, we can get distracted from our own words. It’s possible we can get discouraged, thinking someone else has done such a better job than we ever could. Or, we find it hard to find our own stories to write when we’re so caught up on the words of others.

But there’s a reason reading is the first “R” in education—reading is fundamental.

And, reading is research.

We can’t know our market and know our genre, if we aren’t reading. We must fill our minds with all the nuances of our genre so that when we write all the right words are there, telling the best story for success in the market. For instance, if you don’t read what’s hot, you might be happily writing a story about a sparkly vampire and the girl who loves him—never knowing that story’s already been told and sold.

’Riting. That one’s pretty obvious, right? I’m not a firm believer in writing every day, though I know I’m better off for it when I do. But certainly, the best way to become a better writer is to write, write and write. You must practice your art in order to learn, to improve, and ultimately, to succeed.

Now, ’rithmetic. You might wonder what math has to do with writing, but I’m here to tell ya, publishing is a numbers game. Let’s look at the different formulas:

Reading + Writing = Published

Submitting + (Reading x Writing) = Published

Query x Agents = Published

You see how this works. There are any number of possible formulas for writing success, but every single one of them boils down to this singular truth: Don’t give up. Read, Write, and then submit like crazy.

So now you have the Three R’s of your writing education. I hope you took good notes. Class dismissed.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Community of Support

By Keith Fisher

When I think of writers, and search my mind for examples, I think of hermits who disappear into a private world, like Thoreau, when he retreated to Walden. I think of mountain cabins, or beach houses that provide shelter, and solitude, while a writer breathes life into their creation.

Writers are people who set themselves apart from their group, while finding ways to document the culture of that group. We are observers, making mental notes, and extrapolating the rest. Yet, we jump at a chance to socialize with other writers.

Something inside us rejoices in talking to others who understand how it feels to take dictation from a character. To lend support and receive the same. If nothing else, to absorb the wisdom of many, who passed this way before.

Last week, I had the opportunity to dine at a restaurant with a large group of writers. I knew many of them, having met at writer’s seminars or workshops somewhere. The gathering caused me to reflect on my first writers’ conference.

I’d been laboring alone, kind of, sort of, like Thoreau. Alone, but full of mistakes and rejections. One of the editors had written a personal note, recommending I look into a workshop or conference. It took three years, and reading a book by Sol Stein, to convince me.

Stein talked about writers’ boot camps. (I think the idea originated with him). Anyway, while searching for publishers on the Internet, I found the LDStorymakers. They were holding a writer’s conference and doing a boot camp that year, so I signed up.

To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. I’d read a lot of the material before. I hadn’t applied it, but I’d read it. The things that overwhelmed me, were the friendly camaraderie, the networking possibilities, and the sheer numbers of people with the same dreams as mine.

I came away from that conference with dozens of friendships I cherish today. Also, I became a member of Authors Incognito, an online support group of conference attendees. From which, other groups have sprung, including this blog group.

Much of my success as a writer has come, because of that first conference. I know other conferences would’ve been helpful too, but at Storymakers, I attended classes that increased my personal faith. Not many writers’ conferences end with a closing prayer.

There will be another LDStorymakers conference this year. It’s slated for April 23 & 24. I think there are still openings. Also, the first chapter contest deadline is March first, you have to attend the conference to enter, but look into it. I look forward to making more writer friends.

I still enjoy my romantic notion of a private secluded cabin by a lake, but I love my writing community, too. Having the whole gang over for a retreat once a year would make the dream complete.

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

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Stories Live On

by G.Parker

It's always the same; stories of sacrifice, determination, exceptional strength or courage and undaunted support of family and friends. The Olympian is always a rare breed of human that seems to rise above the rest of us in feats that amaze and astound.

In watching the games over the past week (well, what I could, since I'm a working woman) it was once again a treat to see the human spirit win out. There were those that fell while skating, both figure and speed; those that fell while snowboarding, and still flashed a smile at the end of their run, acknowledging that despite how hard you train, whatever you do, things are still determined in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, there were also those who had to talk ill of others and complain about how the medals were dished out, but I guess you'll find that anywhere you go.

What makes these games stand out, is how most of the athletes treat each other. They congratulate the winner, despite the fact they didn't place well or where they had dreamed of. They show a camaraderie that most of us envy because our own friendships don't often reach that level.

Fortunately, I am surrounded by supporting friends and family in both my writing and working world. My husband may not like the fact I'm a TV addict during these weeks, but he puts up with it because he loves me and knows it's something I love. My critique group met this week, and they were all just as pumped about the games as I was, reviewing the success of this athlete or that one that we favored.

All of it reminds me of a line from a movie. Perhaps you've seen it, A Knight's Tale. At the end, Williams squires look on while he kisses the girl, and Chaucer comments on how he would have to write this experience down. Wat asks him if he means how the joust turned out. He tells him no. "The whole human experience."

That is what I feel sums up the games and how writers feel about life. They embody the whole human experience and show us the best of humanity and the gift of a world united.

Enjoy the games.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Up In the Night

By Nichole Giles

Two weeks ago, I woke up in the night having had an epiphany about one of my unfinished novels. Don’t laugh. Even though I’m currently trying to get to the end of the book, my great idea had to do with the beginning. As in a prologue.

Because of this idea, I figured out a few scenes that need to be added in, a few I’ll end up taking out, and it seems like I had great plans for the ending. Yes, I wrote the ideas down. Sort of. But only in a really vague way, and not in any detail whatsoever.

I didn’t have time. I’m currently working on two different unfinished novels—as well as a rewrite of another, and last week I spent three days at a conference. I chose—stupidly—to focus on finishing the rewrite before going back to the unfinished book. Yeah, well. It sounded like a good idea at the time.

Fast forward to today. I knew I had critique group tonight, and that we’ve gone through all the chapters I’ve written up to this point. My plan was to write a new chapter during the day, print it, and bring it raw. I’ve done it before. It isn’t so painful as to make me give up writing. Usually. But…things happened. I had about fifty distractions that kept me from my computer during the day. And the truth is, every time I did open my screen, I drew a complete blank.

I’m not sure why. Maybe I need to skip around, write the prologue, the middle scenes, then the end before I tie them all together. Or maybe it’s because I knew I had to get it done. Whatever the reason, I didn’t get my chapter written. What I ended up with is two pages of pure crap—which, incidentally, I will eventually turn into non-crap. As soon as I find that inspiration I let pass me by last week. Dang. Maybe I left it in that box of chocolates I gave away on Valentine’s Day? I should go look.

The moral of the story: if inspiration wakes you up in the night, go with it. Ignore it, and it will eventually run away and then you’re left chasing after it screaming, nooooooo don’t goooooooo! Er, well, that’s how I’m feeling today. Bah.

Back to writing. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Write Something Every Single Day

by C. LaRene Hall

I think it has helped me this year to write about each of my goals in more detail. Now I take time to stop and think about them. I recognize when I’m failing to do something, and I try harder to get back on track.

My life has been crazy this entire year, and I don’t see any break any time soon. Although I committed to write each and every single day, I have missed a few days. Monday, President’s Day, I tried to make up for lost time, and spent most of the day writing. That still doesn’t make it okay that I didn’t write something every day. If you are a writer, you really do need to write every day, or at least more often than I’ve been writing.

I’m starting to think I made too many goals or resolutions for this year. Read a book every week, write something every single day, pray, read scriptures, grow spiritually, be a truer friend, preserve my physical health, and expand my horizons are things that I should do every day. It makes no difference whether I call them resolutions or if I call them goals. I’m still finding this a difficult challenge.

I have no answer for anyone about how to make time to write every day. The hardest day for me to write is on Saturday. It’s my catch up day, although I’m finding that I also plan too many things to do every Saturday. Maybe I should break this goal down a bit and be more specific about it. I should probably say that I will write at least 100 words every day. That is writing something every day, and to me it is doable. I wonder if answering emails counts as writing. If so, I can say that I have written something every day.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Dear Lucky Agent" First-Page Contest

By Darvell Hunt

Recently on Facebook, I found that one of my writing friends was submitting an entry to a middle-grade/young-adult first page contest called the "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest. Entering writing contests can be an excellent way to catapult your writing career by getting your work out there to be seen by those in the business.

I decided to follow my friend's lead and submit my middle-grade novel. I soon discovered that one of the requirements to enter was that you must tell others about the contest--which I thought was fair, because that's how I found out about the contest myself. So here goes!

The contest ends on February 21, so you still have a couple of days to submit. You send in only your first 150-200 words. Give it a try--what have you got to lose? You just might find yourself an agent for your novel!

Please click below for details on the contest.

Good luck!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sometimes Less is More

By Ali Cross

The other day I finished the third book by an author I love. I've come to expect great things from this author, not the least of which is an extremely well told story. However I was sorely disappointed by this latest book and I know exactly what it was that bothered me: Too many words.

Words are the writer's commodity, as precious as gold, as weighty as platinum.

When words are pandered about, handed out willy nilly, their value deflates. Pretty soon, they're just a collection of words on a page, and they're not that special anymore.

Readers read words like they're hungry for them, desperate for each word, for where those words will take them. But when there's just so many words and they don't take us anywhere special, well, it makes us feel like giving up the journey.

Obviously, that's not something a writer wants. We don't want our readers to give up on our journey, our story. We want them to go with us, to love the journey as well as the destination.

I learned a valuable lesson reading the latest book by this excellent author: Be stingy with your words. Make sure every word belongs on the page, that they're needed. Make each word golden.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Finding Peace

By Keith Fisher

Wow! What a busy week, and to top it off, I’ve been attending Life, the Universe & Everything (LTUE) at BYU. If you didn’t know, it’s a conference for writers and illustrators of science fiction and fantasy. Held every February, it’s not all SF and fantasy, though. I’ve found plenty of writing tips and other stuff I can use. The class called, Establish Characters through Costume Design was helpful. I need to give more thought to what my characters wear.

It’s refreshing to hang out with the SF types. I admire anyone who writes in that genre because they’re intelligent enough to keep all the knowledge, and collected wisdom of whole worlds in their mind, then, using that knowledge, they write the mythical stories of their creations.

I wrote SF once. Let’s just say, as far as science fiction is concerned, I’m not a bad writer of general, and women’s fiction. (Thanks to the writers of a movie called Funny Farm for that line.) I am a SF fan, and I can hold my own, in the debate of Star Trek VS Star Wars, and I loved Battlestar Galactica on TV. Yesterday, however, I felt like a neophyte.

I sat in Richard Hatch’s presentation and watched the great movie trailers he showed. Hatch is the actor who played Apollo, in the original Battlestar Galactica series. He makes trailers to pitch his ideas (a novel approach). One of which was a ten year old proposal for a bridging series. In the, trailer, the Cylons have evolved and they’re stronger, and Apollo, who leads the whole band, takes his people on a quest to find Starbuck.

In the original series, the Starbuck character, played by Dirk Benedict, was marooned on a planet. In Richard’s trailer, there were many references to Starbuck. He is alive, and they are going to find him.

When the trailer ended, I asked Richard what he intended for the Starbuck character. He informed me that he’d written a series of books about it. People turned to stare at me, as if they were saying, “Well, duh, you should know that.”

Perhaps it’s in my best interest, at this point, to admit I haven’t kept up. There are many facts stuck in my head about the Star Trek world and Star Wars. I am familiar with much of the SF written today, but I write women’s fiction. I live, somewhat unsuccessfully, in the world around me.

Sitting at the feet of Richard Hatch, I felt like slinking out. Accepting my fate as a non-geek, and living my life in obscurity. God Bless those people who manage their lives, and cram all those facts into their heads. I have my hands full, trying to navigate the minds of women.

I did, however, find an hour yesterday, to work on my story. I wrote a fantastic ending to the sequel of the book I’m editing, then, I rewrote a part that needed to be tighter. I spent a few minutes on the first book, spoke to an editor about it, and I felt peace in being a writer. I sat back in the armchair, gazed out over the common area below, and counted my blessings.

Although, there are many frustrations in choosing to be a writer, I am grateful for the chance to develop a talent. I keep a growing project file of books in many stages of development. I hold the lives of over a hundred characters in my head, and I know how they will grow by the end of their stories. I’m sorry if I haven’t crammed the whole Galatica series in there.

I wish Richard had been allowed to make the continuation series, but he’s working on a new project that promises to be amazing. Its called The Great War of Magellan and the book will be out at the first of the year.

Good luck with your writing—live long and prosper, and may the force be with you. See you next week.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Let the Games Begin!

by G.Parker

Today marks the start of something that draws my attention every time. I participated in 2002 when it was here in Utah. That's right, hopefully everyone knows today is the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics.

There is a lot to be said about the Olympics. There will be thousands of reporters, both with cameras and paper and pen (okay, probably blackberries,) taking note as history happens. Some of what will be reported will be negative -- there's always some kind of scandal, or someone who has bent the rules -- and yet most of it is positive. Because The Olympics are something that catch the imagination, no matter how much you don't like them. I say that because I have several family members that are tired of the politics involved. My husband says the games should be held in Greece, period. I think the winter olympics would never happen then....

What grabs me is the spirit of the games. When we went to the closing ceremonies in 2002, the rest of the volunteers and I cried as they turned off the torch -- It was so hard to see it go out -- because when it's burning, there is truly a different feeling about the world, at least to me. It's similar to Christmas, but better. People are more aware that there is a big world out there, and friendlier in their interactions.

I'm very jealous of anyone who is able to be in Vancouver to see the games in person. I'm thrilled we're gonna be able to see most of it in real time. I had every intention of a big family party tonight. We were going to have perogies and cabbage rolls, watch the opening ceremonies and party away. Then we found out my son has to participate in the half time activities at the high school basketball game. Sigh.

Okay, I know my son is more important, and we hardly ever have to go anywhere for an activity for him, but couldn't they have postponed the basketball game to Saturday? I mean really -- it's the opening ceremonies for the Olympics for crying out loud! Watching it on tape is just not the same.

Oh well. This way we can skip through the commercials and still get the whole thing. We might as well stay for the whole game -- I'm not gonna want to watch the opening ceremonies from the middle.

My husband tells everyone that he has resigned himself to not seeing me for the weeks of the Olympics because I'm glued to the TV. At least he is willing to put up with it...I'm afraid it happens every time.

The Olympic spirit calls to me and I have to participate as history is made.

Kind of reminds me of when an author gets a book published and has that big signing party. The one where they sell loads of books and have that feeling in their chest that they've finally made it? That's what the Olympics feels like to me. It's in the heart.

I hope you catch some of it. Just remember to say 'eh' after everything for the next couple of weeks and you'll feel right at home.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Following My Own Advice

By Nichole Giles

The other day I got a call from my hairdresser. She says, “My brother has written a book, but he doesn’t know what to do with it. Can I give him your number?”

Believe it or not, I’ve had a handful of calls like this, and each time, I wonder what I’m supposed to tell people. It’s not like I’m a publisher. But, okay, I have been doing this writing thing for quite a while so I have some ideas about where to tell aspiring writers to start, or at least to go next with their projects.

I said, “Sure. Go ahead. Have him give me a call.”

He did. As I mapped out the basic answers to his questions, I was struck with the realization that there are a lot of writers out there who want to write, but don’t have a clue what to do after they start. Now, I’m not talking about technical things—punctuation, grammar, style, voice—although, those are definitely important. I’m talking about core basics. Classes, conferences, publishing information, market trends and needs… The list is endless.

When I first started writing, I didn’t have a clue where to start either. But circumstances led me to a local conference, and everything snowballed from there. I’ve never looked back.

I didn’t really know where to start with this poor guy who was asking for my help. Really, I’m pretty much a novice myself. Or I feel like one at least. Probably the most valuable piece of information I was able to pass on is that he really needs to invest in attending some local conferences. Because that’s where I got my real start.

I even gave him information about a few in our area. See, the thing is, even though writing itself is a very solitary process, publishing, marketing and publicity are another story altogether. We have to get out there, be seen, network, step out of our shy little comfort zones and show ourselves to the public. Yikes!

But it’s true. And if we want to make it in this industry, I’m afraid there’s really no way around it.

Today I’m attending a free conference at BYU. I’m even signing books at the bookstore from 11:45-1:30. I’m out there, pounding the pavement, learning and networking. Following my own advice. If nothing else, it’s always fun to meet new people. Come join me!

Feb 11-13
Life, the Universe, and Everything sci fi / fantasy conference
BYU Campus
Provo, UT

Feb 27th
ANWA Conference
Best Western Dobson Inn
Mesa, AZ
Signing soon after 5:00

April 23-24, 2010
LDStorymakers Conference
Provo Marriott
101 W 100 N
Provo, UT

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Read Scriptures

By C. LaRene Hall

I love reading, and once I remember to open my scriptures, I love what I find there. The question for me is – Why do I ignore that large black book that holds such wonderful stories? Why is this so hard for me to do daily?

Most of you probably don’t have a problem with this. Because I do, I decided that this had to be one of my goals/resolutions for the year. I’m reading the Old Testament, which I haven’t completed for a very long time. Once I thought if I didn’t start at the beginning, it would be easier. I was wrong. I still didn’t get to the end before the year was over. This year I started with the very first page, and read more than 25 pages in one sitting. I actually didn’t want to stop, but since I had some place to be I had to put my book away.

My husband hates reading of any kind, so he’s no help to me. I wish I had a solution to make this easy, but I don’t. I would invite anyone with some helpful information as to how to make scripture reading easy to please comment.

When I’m teaching a lesson in church, I read from the scriptures more often. After an especially inspiring meeting, I come home and reach for them.

I know that daily persistence helps. Somehow, you have to make it a habit, and then it comes easy.

I found a helpful chart that lists the total pages/chapters for all LDS Scriptures in the standard size, English text.

LDS Scriptures Pages Chapters
Book of Mormon 531 239
Doctrine and Covenants 291 138
Pearl of Great Price 59 15
Old Testament 1184 929
New Testament 403 260
Entire Standard Works 2468 1581

Trust me to pick the largest book to read. Oh well, it’s too late to change my mind now. I wonder how long it’s going to take me to read 1,184 pages or 929 chapters. I suppose that means if I want to keep up I need to read about four pages a day since I’m not very far yet. I think that still leaves me some time for writing.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Passing Time

By Ali Cross

Last week I talked about the joy of querying agents. But what should you do once the queries are out? It’s probably not the best time to revise your book, but what else can you do?

You could twiddle your thumbs.

Practice tying cherry stems with your tongue.

Enlist your friends in a heated game of hopscotch.

You could engage in some serious hand-wringing while you wait for word on your query—but I’ve got a better idea.

Now’s the perfect time to dive into a new project—freewriting at its best.

Freewriting something new and exciting will bring back the joy of writing and help you remember that you’re a writer, not just a reviser, and editor and querier. So when the rejections come in (because there will be rejections,) you’ve got the fire of creative writing to keep you warm.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Dances with Wolves in the Future

By Keith Fisher

I took some advice and went to the movies last night. We saw Avatar and my daughter loved it. The 3 D was cool but it’s always difficult to see through the eye wear when you have prescription glasses.

With that said, I’ve got to admit I loved it. After Happy feet, I thought I’d hate watching movies with a political agenda, but this was good. It became obvious to me, however, that Avatar is basically, a remake of Dances with Wolves. That movie staring Kevin Costner, took us on an adventure where a lone army officer befriends the local Indians, learns their ways, and grows to love them.

Avatar is pretty much the same script, set in the future where a human, ex marine, learns the ways of the local people and literally becomes one of them. This time however, the locals win the war and kick the humans out. Also, if the story doesn’t leave you in tears, you’re not paying attention.

I left the theatre thinking about remakes. Nostalgia movies were big business in the early nineties. They even remake TV shows. Back in the eighties I watched a sitcom (I don’t remember which one). I recall, though, as soon as the episode began I knew what would happen from beginning to end. Not because the plot was hollow, but because I’d seen the same episode cast in another sitcom from an earlier time period.

As a writer I worry about developing a plot and finding out it was already done, or worse, being in the editing stages of a book, and I hear that a well known (published) author came out with one so similar, I could be accused of plagiarism.

You might think this is a little neurotic, and perhaps it is, but it does happen. I worked for the better part of two years on a book once, and the rejection said, the publisher already had a similar book, in house, in process.

If you were a publisher, and you had two similar stories with the same idea, who would you chose to publish? The well established author? Or would it be the untried writer? No matter how good the latter has written the story, the publisher is going to choose the writer with the track record.

That’s not to say that similar books are published close to the same time, in the same market, because they are. There’s even a pair of books on the market right now, with the same title. I haven’t read either one yet, but I don’t think they are the same premise.

We’ve all seen the same idea in two different books, at the same time. What happens, usually, is the second book gets accused of being a copy of the first, even though they were written about the same time. Also, critics judge the best, based on how it was written.

So, what do I do? How do I keep from wasting my time with a plot, only to discover someone else wrote it faster and got to market before me? Sadly, there is no way to prevent it, unless I write it quicker, but even that, won’t protect me from well-known authors with the same premise. Especially, if you take the inspiration factor into account.

What is the inspiration factor? Simply put, I believe there is a higher power who wants people to read certain themes, so He puts the idea into the heads of many writers at the same time, hoping, one of them will write the story and touch hearts.

There is hope, however. Sometimes a premise is so good, and so urgent, other publishers want to get on the bandwagon (pardon the cliché). Also, as in the case of Dances with Wolves, you could take the premise, write it better, with a different twist, and readers might like it more. Such is the case in the Cain and Able story. The Romeo/Juliet story, or even, Moby Dick. All those stories have been rewritten in different ways, many times.

I choose to write the great premise, and finish the book, because it gives me practice, and it proves to the “author of all great inspiration,” that I will listen. Then, when my writing is better, I will the one the publisher picks to tell the story.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Barn Door is Open...

by G.Parker

Getting asked if you lived in a barn or grew up in a barn is a common question when leaving a door open. At least if you have parents like me and my hubby. And my mother-in-law. And anyone else I know.... Grin. Generally, it means get up off your but and close the door, you're letting the hot/cold air in or out.

This new year has only started and most of us would look at the calendar and think, wow, that's a lot of empty days ahead. What is going to happen? What plans will we make? What are we going to get done? Those goals that were set at the beginning of January take shape in those empty days and give us some way of measuring our time.

Well, already I've been informed I have two grandchildren on the way, a son that's getting ready for a mission, two nieces that are getting married and two daughters that are hoping to move out soon. This will leave us with a house down to two children - theoretically -- which doesn't include the cats and new dog. Perfect writing situation, right?

I'm not sure.

Not only that, but several others in our blogging circle are experiencing the phrase "you can pick your friends but you can't pick your relatives". All of us have relations that are causing us stress, and it makes it hard to find the creativity inside us to write. Short of commiserating with each other, it's a tossed bag which of us are getting anything done.

All I know is it's a year full of stress already and it's only started. It feels like someone's opened the door and left it open -- will someone go shut it please? I've got my hands full.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Plunging into the Abyss

By Nichole Giles

I did a lot of blogging last week. I had some deadlines and commitments, but I also felt inspired to blog a lot. Not that it’s an unusual urge, mind you. But apparently I’m trying to make up for last week’s surge this week since I haven’t blogged at all until now.

And I can’t help but wonder if this means that inspiration comes in spurts for me. Does it mean I should only write when I’m feeling the all-encompassing need to write / blog? I don’t think so. Because I’m still feeling the need this week. It just happens that I’m funneling that desire into bigger, more important projects. And—I still have a few posts planned for my personal blog. I just haven’t taken the time to get them written yet.

Instead, I’m experimenting with one of my manuscripts. It’s a lesson in tense and point of view, and I’m liking it, even though it’s turned into a monster of a project. When I’m finished, I believe my ms will be much stronger. And if I hate the changes, I can either revert to the original version—which is saved—or go through it once again, keeping the changes I like and fixing the ones I don’t.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these types of experiments lately, and wondering what holds me back from trying new techniques, new styles. The answer? I’ve decided it’s fear. What if…someone doesn’t like it/it doesn’t sell/I ruin the story/the story loses its all important voice? Yeah, all that could happen, but that’s the beauty of technology. What if doesn’t have to be scary because we have the ability to save our original work while we try something new.

Basically, we can have our cake and eat it too. (Pardon the terrible cliché!) As I worked through this line of thinking a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that my fears are unfounded. There is no reason for me not to experiment, not to plunge into an old project with new eyes. In fact, it would be crazy NOT to give it a shot. I have nothing to lose. (As long as I faithfully back up my files.) So…what’s stopping me? NOTHING!

Well, nothing but my kids, their sports/music, sleeping habits, housework, blogging, email, Facebook, Twitter…

But none of those is any better of an excuse than fear. And so, I go. I shall plunge myself back into a manuscript that has been long since finished in an attempt to make it blossom even bigger, taller, stronger. And then, when I emerge once again from the abyss of a 400 page manuscript…yes, I’ll probably blog about it.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Pray to Communicate

by C. LaRene Hall

I guess my goals/resolutions intertwine with one another. Last week I mentioned praying when I wrote about spirituality. This week I want to delve into praying a little more because this year I hope to improve the quality of my prayers as well as the quantity.

When a person communicates with me, that mean we talk, correspond, write, or exchange a few words. This is a two-way thing. If the other person doesn’t respond, that means one of us isn’t listening.

When I pray, sometimes I close my ears or my heart to the answers. Or, in most cases I don’t stay on my knees long enough to receive an answer. That means I wasn’t listening.

This year I’m hoping to take the time to listen for the answers. For me, this is difficult. Life is busy and usually I don’t want to be patient and wait for Him to speak to me. I want to be done with it so I can get on with my life.

I know that without the help of God I wouldn’t be able to write anything. Yet, I fail to acknowledge Him as often as I should. If I pray more often and include Him in my writing decisions maybe I would have a more successful year. It is my goal this year to listen, pray more often, and wait patiently for answers.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Let's Go Fishing

By Ali Cross

No one likes the word rejection. You’re the last to be picked for dodge-ball or the in-crowd doesn’t want you. You’re spurned by a lover, or turned down for a job. No one likes it, but we’ve all experienced it.

Rejection comes to all of us, usually in many forms at many different times through our lives. So the question is not if it will come, but how we’ll handle ourselves when it does.

Last week, I received a rejection from an agent that really hurt. The agent was one of my favorites and she’d requested to read my entire manuscript. I was full of hope that I might get accepted. Instead, I received those dreaded words “I’m afraid I have to pass.” Rejected.

Being rejected by a desirable agent is like being spurned by a lover. It doesn’t matter that they say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” You still feel judged and found lacking. “What’s wrong with me?” you think, followed by, “Why doesn’t anyone want me?” and maybe even, “Will I ever find someone to love me/my manuscript?”

You whine and wail, cry and fuss. Maybe you throw yourself down on your bed and have a good cry.

When you were a kid, your mom probably told you, “There’s always more fish in the sea,” and you may or may not have believed her.

But when it comes to agents, you really do have to take Mom’s advice and apply it. Chin up, put your best face on, and get right back out there.

Last week, after reading the email that might as well have been stamped with a big ol’ rubber stamp saying REJECTION, I teetered on the brink of decision. Give in and have a good cry, or hurry and send out a bunch more queries.

I chose the latter and of the ten more queries I sent out, two requested to read the full manuscript. So Mom was right—there really are more fish in the sea . . . be it lovers or agents, it’s all the same.

Rejection is just another opportunity to throw your hook back in. Keep on trying and one of these days you’ll catch yourself the best fish in the sea.