Monday, April 27, 2009

THE Teen Writers' Conference

Hey all- the following is an interview with Josi Kilpack, THE Teen Writers' Conference chair. I'm honored to be on the committee with her and am looking forward to this conference. It's going to be great, and if you know any kids aged 13-19, please pass the info along!!

NANCY: Tell us a little bit about yourself, Josi.

JOSI: I’m a mother of four, ages 15-7, and an author of 9 novels, with a tenth coming out in August. I have been a member of multiple writing groups, large and small, and a committee member and former conference chair for numerous writer’s conferences. In addition, I’m a frequent presenter to schools and groups, a fabulous cook (if I do say so myself) and amateur chicken farmer.

NANCY: You are the conference chairperson for an upcoming writers' conference for kids. Please tell us about the purpose of the conference.

JOSI: Several of the committee members and myself have been involved with putting together writing conferences for several years. We started small and have grown until our most recent conference had well over 250 attendants. Over the years we have had some teenagers attend our conference, and while they have enjoyed the experience, it seems to also be a bit overwhelming to walk into a two day, morning to night information-fest. So, we began discussing the idea of having a conference where the format, classes, and overall environment is created specifically to give kids, ages 13-19, the best overall introduction to writing conferences as well as instruction that will be most helpful to where they are now on their journey of being a writer. From there we started throwing out ideas and it really just rolled all together until we have this; THE Teen Writer’s Conference.

NANCY: What is your purpose for the conference? What do you hope the teens who come discover?

JOSI: Our hope is that the attendees will discover a lot of things, 1) that they are not the only kids that write, 2) that whatever goals or ambitions they might have in regard to becoming a writer are within reach, and 3) that it takes knowledge and time and concerted effort to accomplish those goals. Those of us on the committee, all of us being writers ourselves, have spent years honing our craft and are excited to help set these kids on that same path—perhaps earlier than we ever started.

NANCY: What kind of classes will you be offering?

JOSI: We will have classes that focus on actual elements of writing, as well as classes on book markets, the publishing process, and what they can do now to best prepare themselves for a future in writing. We have a variety of classes so as to appeal to both new and experiences writers.

NANCY: What if a teen would like to come, but is really shy? Will there be anything that will make him or her uncomfortable?

JOSI: Our entire focus and reason for putting this conference together is to create a comfortable place for young writers to come, learn, and flourish. We have been and will continue to put their comfort as our first priority because we know if they are intimidated and anxious, they will not benefit from this experience. However, we also expect them to be ready for this experience. Each youth, along with their parents, will need to determine if they are ready to be a part of this. Not all teen writers will be, and that’s okay. We hope to make this an annual event, so if this year won’t work, then perhaps by next year they will be ready.

NANCY: What is your overall goal for every youth that attends the Teen Writers' Conference?

JOSI: That they leave encouraged and inspired to do their best, to hone their craft, and to truly reach for the stars in regard to their writing and their life. We also hope they will make friends with one another and feel a sense of community among other writers their own age.

NANCY: How were you able to get such excellent editors and famous writers to attend?

JOSI: Well, in all humility I have to admit that they are my friends—my very good friends. We are like-minded people that saw a common goal and made it happen. I admire each and every person on this committee, and understand the sacrifice they each make to be a part of this. We are joined in this purpose as well as in our passion for great writing. I am blessed to rub shoulders with some of the best writers out there and the attendees get to benefit from that gift in my life.

NANCY: When is it and how do teens register?

JOSI: Registration is open for another 4 weeks. To register, attendees need to go to the website and print off the registration form. Those attendees under the age of 17 will need parental permission to attend; then they will mail the completed registration, along with payment, to the address printed on the page. They, and their parents, will receive a welcome e-mail upon receipt of their registration as well as updates as the conference gets closer. Updates will also be posted on the website.

NANCY: Finally, this conference is for 13 to 19 year olds. Why that age group?

JOSI: We discussed this issue at length, and then simply decided since it was a TEEN conference, we would make it open to TEENS only. We feel that having them among their peers will help them relax and yet be willing to ask questions, meet other kids, and focus on the instruction we’re providing. For the older attendees, this will likely be a kind of introduction to adult-focused writer’s conferences, showing them what to expect and how the typical conference is organized. For the younger attendees, we hope they will come back year after year and continue learning about what they can do in the future.

NANCY: Any other information you'd like to share?

JOSI: We’ve had some parents express concern in regard to leaving their children at the conference without them. Again, this conference isn’t right for all teens, or all parents, but we do ask that parents consider the value of letting their children experience the independent nature of this conference. As a committee, we are dedicated to their safety and comfort; they will come to no harm while attending. And while we ask that parents stay clear of the conference rooms, there are many places on campus that are great for reading or getting some other work done if they worry about going too far away. We will also allow attendees to keep cell-phones on silent throughout the conference so that parents are only a phone call away. For those attendees without cell-phones, they are welcome to use a committee member's phone at any time.

NANCY: Where can people go to find more information, and especially to learn about the writing contest made available just for those who attend?

JOSI: has all the details of the conference, contest, venue, etc. If something is not answered, there are e-mail links that will send you to us so we can give you the details you are looking for.

**And a final note from me- this is going to be so fun. What I wouldn't have given to have had something like this when I was a kid! I'm looking forward to it and am pleased to be teaching a class, myself!

Questions or comments? Check out the website or feel free to email me.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

She posted WHAT online?

I just found this extremely cool link from Nathan Brandsford's blog. It's an article written by author Lynn Viehl, and in it she writes about how she got on the NYT mass market bestseller list. She even, get this, posted her royalty statement for all and sundry to peruse. She clearly lists how much money she made, what percentages went where, and what she ultimately pocketed.

For anyone wondering how things are in the national publishing scene, this is one link you don't want to miss.

Ok, scrapping the schedule

I'm a Meyers/Briggs/Keirsey ENFP personality type, which basically means that I have issues with rules, regulations and too much routine.

Makes me sound really dependable, doesn't it.

And in light of the fact that I've not nearly done what I set out to do with this blog, I'm scrapping the rigid, (hey, for me, it's rigid), schedule and will post as often as possible about at least one of the things I was trying to do with that daily schedule.

Right now, I'm pushing to get my next book done, and between that and mothering, I find myself not giving the blog the attention it deserves. I'm hoping if I relax it a bit for myself, my posts will be better.

Lame, yes. And I suppose you might understand if you are also an ENFP. My dad is an ESTJ. Personality-wise, the only thing we have in common is the extrovert piece. He is duty-bound and dependable. I struggle to make it on time anywhere. It's not something I'm proud of. But given the fact that in the evolutionary scheme of things I do supposedly have the potential to learn and progress, (and trust me, there are days I wonder if I've evolved much past, say, plant life), I have to believe that by the time I'm 80, I'll be responsible, too.

At least, that's what I tell myself. ;-) My dad has hope.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Author Spotlight- Michele Ashman Bell

So I'm skipping Thursday's Tidbits post and jumping right into the author spotlight for this week.

When I was perusing shelves for LDS authors before I sent in my first manuscript, I saw Michele's name. She, Anita Stansfield and Rachel Nunes are the women I remember seeing the most as I conducted my own informal market research, and I've been lucky enough to get to know all three of these talented ladies.

Michele has 21 published books to her credit, and those books include romances, young adult adventures, short stories and children's books. I've enjoyed her romance novels and my daughter loved her young adult books.

Michele is beautiful and gracious, and even though she is both of those things, I can't help but love her. I try to hate her but it doesn't work. She is one of the most genuinely nice people I've ever met. She also possesses amazing people skills--I've seen her charm people at book signings, and I always come away from time spent with her with lifted spirits and a smile.

All that aside, she's a really good storyteller, which is the point of this spotlight. Her most recent series is The Butterfly Box, of which the first book has been published (A Modest Proposal),and she's just finished writing the second. I have yet to read A Modest Proposal, which is sitting on my nightstand and waiting for a peaceful moment (ha!) this summer when I can read it and bask in the sun. It's one of those books I've been putting off because I want to enjoy it at my leisure. (Does that make sense? Am I the only one who does that?) I've enjoyed many of Michele's books, but I think my favorite this far is Finding Paradise.

Michele is the mother of three beautiful girls, a handsome son and she has a darling grandbaby. Her blog is here. Her website is here. I think she's the ultimate fun beach read, and since summer is coming... :-)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Industry Info

Thanks to the miracle of cyberspace, we have access to agents and editors who openly share their business lives with the rest of us through their sites and blogs. There are a few that I've seen many writers link to on their blogrolls, and one such is Nathan Bransford. This guy has such good advice and a sense of humor, to boot. I check his blog daily and have made lots of good notes.

There are so many good agent blogs out there, but another that I frequent is LDS Publisher. She gives valuable advice specific to the LDS market, so if that's your goal, your time will be well spent at this blog.

One last blog with a wealth of info: BookEnds LLC. So, so much good stuff to be had there. BookEnds is a literary agency and I love the conversational, helpful and friendly tone of the posts. Makes you feel like you can get there from here.

Good luck, and might I suggest a massive Google hunt for agents/editors if you want to get an overall feel for who's out there and who might be representing the kind of books you write. If you're like me, the hunt is half the fun. I love doing industry research. If you're not like me, however, then just visit the links I've provided, for starters, and work from there. :-)

Happy hunting!

Books I Like

So I'm really late posting this, but I haven't forgotten. I'm trying to finish the book I'm working on right now, and it has me a little scattered.

One of my favorite books of all time is Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I read this book several years ago for a book club and really, really loved it. It tells the story of Francie Nolan, and girl growing up in Brooklyn with her brother, practical mother and alcoholic father, whom she adores. They live in poverty, but there's such a feeling of hope about the book that it didn't bog me down in spirit the way others have. By the end of the book, I was pulling for this character, and I was so happy with how it all ended.

I do believe that most of the reviews I've seen about this book have been positive. Some like it more than others, of course, and one review I saw recently mentioned some prejudice and stereotyping in the book that I don't remember jumping out at me. It's been some time, though, and it could be I've blocked it out. It makes me cringe a little to think that there may be something objectionable in terms of prejudice that I may have missed. Some books are interesting commentaries on their time/settings and as such the reader will expect it to reflect the attitudes of the day. There are other times, though, that it's too much, to the point that it detracts from the story, and I don't remember feeling that with this book.

One thing is for sure--it made me appreciate a fully-stocked kitchen.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Writing Tips- Generating Ideas

"Where do you get your ideas?"

Such a common question, and I usually respond with my favorite answer to everything: Brainstorming.

Now, granted, there are ideas everywhere; a story in the newspaper or something on tv might trigger a great idea. But lots of times, my ideas have come from brainstorm lists.

Here's one way I do this. I make lists of jobs I think are really cool, locations I'd love to visit, people I think are interesting, that sort of thing. I also list my favorite books and movies, examining what I really like as a reader, and jot down everything I can think of.

Then, I start asking the "what if" question. What if artifacts started disappearing from an archaeological dig in Guatemala? What if a man with a rotten past temporarily forgot it? And what if clues to his past took him to Savannah, Georgia and Tuscany, Italy? And what if this same guy sees a mirror image of himself lying dead in an alley? (Ok, so maybe that's not a common "what if" question; I'm just odd).

The key to everything, for me, is brainstorming. It's how I work things out. And when I get ideas, I know I'll forget them if I don't write it down somewhere. I've jotted down plot ideas and notes for other books on scraps of paper or notebooks I put aside and when I find these ideas later, I'm always amazed that a) I thought of them in the first place, and b) that those ideas haven't popped up in my mind since. That's been one witness to me that just because I think of something once doesn't always mean I'll think of it twice. I have to write it down.

Incidentally, lists are also a great journaling device. My sister makes lists, and I copied her idea once, ages ago. I listed all of my kids' favorite foods, movies, books, and toys. It's such a fun window into the past. The memories come right back and I can see my kids playing all over again.

Brainstorming lists! Try it!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Author Spotlight- Jennie Hansen

My first author spotlight is someone I know personally and admire very much, both as a writer and a woman. She's amazingly talented, strong and kind. She's also witty and 9 times out of 10, I find myself saying, "Yeah, what she said!" She puts into words the things I'm thinking but she does it so much more effectively than I do.

Jennie has 20 published books to her credit, the most recent being High Country. She's written both contemporary and historical novels. She also has an impressive background as an award-winning journalist. I'm constantly in awe of the way she strings words together.

Jennie is also a book reviewer for Meridian. She does this in addition to her writing, family, and now temple work. One of the things I appreciate about Jennie, as a reviewer, is that she's honest, but kind. She is also so well-read that I know I can trust her opinion about good writing, regardless of whether or not we like the same kinds of books.

Here's a link to her website- as a reader I'm always happy to find author websites so I can read a little about them and discover how they started life as a published writer. Click on the link and learn some more about Jennie- that is, if you haven't already. It'll be worth your time!

She's really good.

And no, she didn't pay me to do this. ;-)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Behind the scenes...

I was trying to think of a tidbit from my 2nd book, No Time for Love, when I remembered the most glaring change of all that I had to make.

In this book, my heroine is a private investigator who spends the bulk of her time following cheating husbands around and showing evidence of their infidelities to their wives, who hired her to do the following around in the first place. ORIGINALLY, she was hired by the wives to serve as BAIT, to see if the husbands would fall for it.

What was I thinking? I mean really, that's a bit edgy for my intended audience, and my publisher let me know it. I figured, hey, it gives the heroine that much more of a reason to be jaded, which was an integral part of her character at the beginning.

Well, with the rewrite, she still came off as jaded enough, and it worked.

That's me. LDS fiction's bad girl. ;-) (Oh, come on! Like we haven't all had stuff we've had to tone down at one point or another! No? Well don't I feel sheepish...)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Industry Info

Ok, so I'm going to morph two categories into one; I've realized that much of what I'd offer in terms of industry info is also in the form of links to sites and blogs that I find helpful, which is supposed to be Saturday's category. So Industry Info now includes blogs/websites/books and I'll think of something else for Saturday.

To begin, the mother of all industry helps in this business is, of course, Writer's Digest Magazine. I read this publication before I was published and still read it, religiously, to this day. The advice they offer runs the gamut from writing tips to agent searching to working with editors to the ever changing market--it's a treasure trove of info for the hungry author.

I was absolutely THRILLED one day, years ago, when I read an article on some kind of writing style, it escapes me now, but as I read I was thinking, "Hey! I already do that! Woohoo!" Now when I look back on some of my early books I kind of cringe, but even then I did manage to do a few things right.

One of the things I love about writing is how much I change and evolve as I go. I'm convinced that rarely is an author as good as s/he has the potential to be. It's why we keep trying to learn and get better and improve upon what we already know and do. I love that there's always more to learn. For me, that thought keeps it fresh and maybe I'll forever be chasing the dangling carrot, but at least it keeps me moving. Better that than to stagnate.

I read books on the writing craft voraciously. I can't get enough of them. Along with the trusty Writer's Digest, these books keep me continually searching and evaluating what I do. So given that, the book I should mention in this post as it's been my favorite, to date, and will likely always be, is Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. Absolutely the mecca, for me, of writing advice. I love, love this book.

If you're looking to keep a finger on the pulse of your writing career, I'd start first with a subscription, (or monthly bookstore visit), to Writer's Digest. It's an excellent place to begin, if you haven't already.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Back on track. Sort of.

So life intruded and I fell off the schedule. Didn't take me long. To the five of you who read this blog, I apologize!

Ok. So Monday was Writing Tip day. (I missed Friday and Saturday of last week, too, but that'll just have to be missed until this week).

My writing tip for today is my most favorite part of the whole process and I carry it throughout the whole project. BRAINSTORMING! This is how I begin all of my books and it's the blueprint I use from start to finish.

Now yes, it tends to be a bit messy, but I pull from my brainstorm list and use it to make outlines and what I call the Next Time Notes, but more on that later. My brainstorm list has every little thought I ever conceived of for the book. There's no order to the list at all, just a massive compilation of thoughts and ideas.

Then, when I start to see how the structure will form, I make a general outline and pull from the brainstorm list, which is often several pages long. Then, as I write, I cross items off both my outline and the brainstorm list so I know what's been covered and what still needs to go in.

I think one of the reasons I like brainstorming so much is because at that point, the story is still perfect. It's this fantastic idea that has the potential to become something wonderful. I read somewhere that the finished product is never quite as perfect as we envision it, and that is so true for me, but I do the best I can and then let it go. It is what it is.

For each book I write, I have a notebook I keep with tabs for each section. Some of my sections include brainstorming, chapter outlines, general outline, research, running edit, and ICAs, (Individual Character Assessments). And although it's the most jumbled and formless, I like looking back over the brainstorming section because it's fun to see how an idea popped out of chaos and morphed into something organized. My notebooks become fun journals that I revisit every now and then.

Now then, Tuesday's post is supposed to be a Book I Enjoy. For today's book, I choose Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. Ah, the quintessential romantic book, I absolutely love the story and brooding hero. It's my favorite formula: governess and moody lord of the manor who is in desperate need of her healing hand. I like the way the mystery unfolds, layer by spooky layer, and the relationship evolves slowly and beautifully. The happy ending leaves me in such a good place that I invariable close the book with a sigh. Admittedly, I haven't read it for about 20 years, and now it makes me wonder if my perspective has changed at all. (For exampe, I read The Scarlet Letter in high school and was pretty irritated. I read it later at 30 and was absolutely OUTRAGED). Jane Eyre is on my local bookclub list to read, so I'll let you know if I have some weird issues with it now that I'm so much older and wiser.

At any rate, any particular thoughts on brainstorming or Jane Eyre would be welcome! What do you think?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Tidbits- What's in a name?

Ok, so my first tidbit is from my first novel, Love Beyond Time. (No, I often don't pick the titles. The publishing company does. And, although I've been known to bash the titles, from a marketing standpoint they really are effective).

ANYway. I began writing this book when we lived in Atlanta for a short time. I had just read a time travel novel by Jude Deveraux, (A Night in Shining Armor, if you're interested), and I was totally enamored of the landscape around Atlanta--all the plaques everywhere that stated what had happened there in that very spot--so I decided to try to write a book myself.

When I first started the book, my heroine was a doctor named Claire Elizabeth. Loved, loved that name. As I progressed with the book, (over an embarrassingly long period of time), I came across a series of books I thought looked absolutely wonderful. The third in the series, Voyager, was newly released, so I backed up and read the first two books. Alas, imagine my dismay to realize that the books were about a time-traveling nurse-turned-doctor named: Claire Elizabeth. The series is the now-famed Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Amazing, amazing books.


I was distraught. But as my character was a time-traveling medical worker, I didn't want to be a copy cat, even though it really was entirely coincidental.

So I changed Claire's name to Amber. It worked, but it was SO HARD to change the character's name in the middle of the writing. I didn't think of her as an Amber. It was sillily painful. Now enough time has passed, (and truthfully I'd have to reread the book to really remember it well), that I can think of her as Amber.

I did resurrect the name Claire, however. She became an archaeologist in my third book. :-)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Industry Info

This post is going to be the most basic of basic posts on submitting manuscripts to a real-life publisher. I'll just begin by telling you what I knew about publishing when I finished writing my first book.

Little to nothing.

The one thing I had in my favor was that I'd made several virtual friends online through a couple of romance readers' bulletin boards. These friends were wonderfully supportive; some of them were published nationally, others were avid readers who knew what they liked in a good story. Through these associations I found the drive to finish my first manuscript and then actually pursue publication.

How did I do that? I hopped online, of course. I knew nobody personally who was published in the LDS market, so I went to a few key websites. Lo and behold, they had submission guidelines! I followed their instructions to the last detail, made three copies of my book, submitted to three companies and crossed my fingers.

I also followed sage advice and kept writing. (I give this sentence its own little paragraph because I cannot emphasize how important it is).

After a few months, I heard from all three companies; the first two sent nice rejection letters, and the third company told me that if I made a few changes, they'd publish my book. Happily enough, I made the changes. And the nice thing was that while I'd waited to hear from the publishers, I'd been able to write the sequel to the first book. It was nice to be able to submit that one right away and get going on the third book.

Now, this will seem silly and very elementary to people who are well-versed in the arts of learning about publishers and submitting manuscripts. But for the novice who really has no idea where to start, just begin by surfing publishers' websites. They'll tell you everything you need to know about submitting to them, and whether or not they take unsolicited manuscripts. (Unsolicited = you don't have an agent and you're just sending the book out on your own).

To make a long story short, become familiar with your favorite publishers' websites and guidelines. This is the advice I always give first when people ask me how to go about the process of getting published. We live in an age where this process is so much more accessible to the unpublished writer--take advantage of it! Know their requirements inside and out. Pay attention to the kinds of books they publish. Follow their instructions to the letter; don't assume that your book is so fabulous that they'll dismiss the fact that you didn't format the manuscript to their specific requirements. They notice things like that; if they say they want double-spaced with one-inch margins all around, that's what they mean.

(Don't panic if you're not sure how to format your manuscript just right--I guarantee you have someone in your life who can help you with this. Typically, the younger they are, the more proficient. Take a 13-year-old kid who's written essays for school and I'll show you a kid who knows Microsoft Word pretty well. Said kid can probably be bought for a burrito or a Slurpee).

This is really basic stuff, and again, I apologize if you're way beyond this. But I hope there's at least one writer out there who might be wondering where to start. I would have loved for someone to walk me through the process, and while some of my friends were able to help, so much of what I learned was self-taught. The publishing industry is complex, but it's also fascinating and not nearly as intimidating to face if you surf around for a bit and learn all you can about it.

J. Scott Savage, author of the new Farworld series, has an awesome post on publishing, ("Publishing 101"), and he says it so much better than I do! He really is amazing--a wonderful writer who's becoming a marketing genius in his own right. I admire him very much.

Good luck!