Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Real Dad

So my dad is a therapist, and a good one. It was nice to have one on hand for all of those traumatic, hormonal teen years. I was always a daddy's girl-absolutely adored him-and probably still am, truth be told. Today is his birthday and I'm thinking about an experience that's taught me something about parenting.

I am the oldest of five kids, and when I was a teenager, naturally, I slept in. One of those Saturdays, my dad decided to take my younger siblings downtown on the bus, because they'd never ridden it before. (I, of course, opted to sleep in instead.) The story goes as follows, and I wish I would have witnessed it personally. They took the bus downtown, ate some breakfast, had to run to catch a connecting bus, for which my dad was glad because everyone should have the experience of having to run for the bus, and had a grand old time riding around town. My younger sister, who was probably 10 at the time, said, "Dad, today you're being a REAL dad."

We all laugh about that, and as a therapist and professor of Child and Family Studies, my dad often reflected on that whole "real dad" concept. In my sister's mind, the extra time spent doing something fun made for such a rich experience.

It's easy to get stuck in the rut of daily, mundane duties that must be done. The dishes and laundry don't do themselves, the toys won't pick themselves up, etc. But there are those times when I play a board game with my son or hang out with my daughters that make for the "real mom" moments. It doesn't have to involve a lot, or any, money. What it does require is time. That can be hard, unless you carve it out of an already full day, and make it a priority, even if only for a short time.

Happy Birthday to my dad, who is amazing and wonderful and such a Real Dad. Love you much.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holidays, shmolidays? Who's really that busy anyway?

So Isabelle Webb 2 comes out in January, and I'm working on Webb 3 right now. I'd like to see it done by the end of the year. Yay, me, for trying to sandwich everything in during the holidays! I ask you, is there a better way to work?

Someone tell me I'm not the only glutton for punishment... ;-)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

SWEET!


My new cover! I have permission to spread it far and wide. This is my tenth novel, Isabelle Webb, The Pharaoh's Daughter. The release date is January, 2011, and for readers who were mad that there was so much time between this one and Legend of the Jewel, you'll be happy to know that I'm working on the third and final book as we speak. I have no clue what the title is- for now I'm calling it Isabelle Webb, Crazy in Greece. :-)

So excited!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Whitney Award Change

This announcement comes from Josi Kilpack's blog. Josi is the Whitney Awards President this year.

“Originally, we wanted to give as many great LDS authors a chance to win as possible,” said Whitney committee member Crystal Liechty. “But we feel like we’ve had enough exposure at this point so that there’s no need to prevent a book from sweeping every category it’s in if that’s what the voters want.”

The Whitneys are an awards program for novels by LDS authors. Elder Orson F. Whitney, an early apostle in the LDS church, prophesied “We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.” Since we have that as our goal, we feel that we should also honor those authors who excel and continually raise the bar.

"Allowing novels to win multiple categories follows the precedence of other nationally recognized award programs, such as The Academy Awards,” said Josi Kilpack, Whitney Awards President. “We’re excited about this change and the continuing excellence in writing that The Whitney Awards both supports and cultivates.”

The Whitney Awards honor novels in the following categories: General Fiction, Romance, Suspense/Mystery, Speculative Fiction, Youth Fiction, Historical, Best Novel of the Year, and Best Novel by a New Author. Novels can be nominated by any reader (via this website or by mail), and nominees are voted on by an academy of industry professionals, including authors, publishers, bookstore owners, distributors, critics, and others. For more information on the Whitney Awards or to nominate a book, visit www.WhitneyAwards.com.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Project Notebooks #4: Chapter Summaries, Running Edits and Research


It's official, I'm little better than a monkey. I said I would post this soon, and I most definitely did not. Now that we have this firmly established, we can move on. :-)

The last portion of my Project Notebooks contains Chapter Summaries, Running Edits and Research.

Chapter Summaries consist of a page for each chapter, on which I write the chapter number, the word count for that chapter, the total word count so far for the whole book, and the page numbers. (The page numbers will change as I revise, but I have a general idea where that chapter is located in the manuscript.)

After this information, which is all listed at the top of the page, I then list the Point of View character(s), the setting and then basic plot points. I can then look at the summary and know exactly whose point of view I was in, where the characters were and what happened.

The Running Edit portion of the notebook is for those times when I come to the middle of the manuscript and think, "Ok, Sally is not going to be an attorney, she's a party planner." Rather than go back to the beginning and fix all those references to Sally being an attorney, I flip to the Running Edit section of the notebook, write down the change, and then from that point on in my writing, I pretend Sally is a party planner. When I get to the end of the book, I go to the Running Edit section and see that I've written myself a note that I need to make changes to Sally's profession. It's at this point that I go through the manuscript and make those changes. The beauty of a Running Edit is that you don't stall yourself midstream- you keep pushing forward until the story is told and THEN go back and edit.

My Research section is simply a place where I can write questions to myself. Things like, "When was the fountain pen invented?" I also write the page number in the manuscript where this is an issue, as I have a character using a fountain pen. I don't have to stop and look things up as I write- again interrupting the flow. I do the research afterward and can relax as I write knowing that whenever a question pops up, I've jotted it down in the Research section so I won't forget about it.

That sums up my Project Notebook, and if you've stuck around this long to see how I do it, I commend you wholeheartedly. I'm happy to say that much of the reason I've not been blogging is because I've been writing a book. I'm trying to find a way to balance both. :-)

Good luck with your writing projects! I hope maybe I've given some suggestions here that might be of use.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Project Notebooks #3: Next Time Notes


Ok, let me tell you why I suck as a blogger. Oh wait, you probably don't need me to tell you. I am inconsistent and I don't show up when I say I will. Kind of like that employee you had last summer. Or maybe a girl you wanted to date and then figured out she was a flake and not worth the effort.

But I am smarter than the apes! Yes? I can improve and learn from my mistakes. There. Now I have to be a better blogger or I'll have proven to the world that I'm little better than a monkey. The kind that claps with cymbals.

So this is my third installment of the Project Notebook. This is all about the Next Time Notes. I devised this section of the notebook when I realized that sitting down to a blank screen every time I tried to write was not only paralyzing but an entirely stupid waste of emotional energy. Why sit there all terrified, when, with a few notes jotted down from my last session, I would have a good place to start?

So it goes something like this. When I reach a point where I'm going to stop writing for the day, I first put what I've done into the Chapter Summaries. (But that's the post for next time. Say, a year from now.) Once I've put my current stuff into the summaries, I flip to the NTN section and begin jotting down VERY SPECIFIC IDEAS about what should happen the next time I turn on the computer. And I do mean specific. If your notes are too general, like: Jack needs to do something that will make people stand up and take notice, instead of: Jack jumps over the candlestick, then you will still sit and stare at the screen. Decide before you go to bed, or do the dishes, or head off to work, or whatever it is when you quit writing for the day, EXACTLY what you will say when you begin again. Even if it's just the one idea.

This has made such a difference in my writing. When I fire up the machine now, I no longer sit and stare, wondering where I was last time, what I should be doing, thinking of all the other things I should be doing instead of writing stories. That's not a good place to be when you're trying to write a story.

So anyway, this is what works for me. NOW. I'm going to do my best to move beyond ape status and post again in a few days about how I structure my Chapter Summaries. They're not as bad as they sound, and not as time-consuming as they sound, either.

And to anyone out there that may someday be one of my editing clients or perhaps a potential agent, editor or publisher to whom I submit: I promise. I really can meet a deadline. :-)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Project Notebook post #2: Brainstorm!


Finally! The next post. Life has a way of derailing the best of intentions.

Ok, so the next tab in my project notebook is the brainstorm section. Truly, for me, this is probably the most important part. Here's what I throw down into my brainstorming section:

plot ideas
ideas for character growth
snippets of conversation between characters
setting ideas
I ask myself questions (i.e. Why would Jane Doe have a reason to kill her mother?)
I answer my own questions. :-)

Basically, anything and EVERYTHING that could ever be relevant to the book goes into these pages. It's a hodge-podge collection of creative crap, I don't worry that my ideas are out of chronological order, I don't care that I have setting ideas mixed in with plot options. All of this stuff gets sorted out later in the Next Time Notes.

Let me say this, and I know it to be true because it's happened to me: IF YOU DON'T WRITE IT DOWN, YOU WILL FORGET IT. Let me repeat that for you. IF YOU DON'T WRITE IT DOWN, YOU WILL SO FREAKING FORGET IT! There have been times through the years that I've jotted an idea on a piece of paper, only to lose it and then have it resurface well after the book has been published. Turns out, I didn't remember to write it down again! When I lost it, the idea was gone from my brain. I didn't remember to put it into the book at all, and turns out, it would have been great! It's true. It's happened to me more than once. Please, for the love of all things holy, write your ideas down, even if they're small details. And if you jot it on the back of a receipt or something, hang on to that little piece of paper like it's gold until you can transcribe the idea into your project notebook.

All right, then. My goal is to post my ideas for Next Time Notes on Wednesday. In the meantime, BRAINSTORM, BRAINSTORM, BRAINSTORM!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Project Notebooks: How I Do It


I presented to the LUW Absolutely Write chapter and also THE Teen Writers Conference on the subject of Project Notebooks. The adult group generated a lot more discussion, probably because they are at a phase in their writing where it makes sense to be thinking about organizing a novel. The teen presentation went fairly quickly and gave me ideas for how to tweak it in the future for younger audiences.

ANYWAY. I thought it might be helpful for other writers to see what I've found that works for me. I've taken bits and pieces from suggestions here and there for over 10 years and have finally come up with a system that works for me. Maybe there are portions of it that will work for you, too.

First of all, choose a notebook, whether it be something already bound, a three-ring binder, or make your own, as I often do. This is your bible for the duration of the project. Every little thought, photo, scene, bits of dialogue- EVERYTHING goes into this one place. (A note to the tech savvy- this is also easily done on the computer- I tend to like the brain-to-hand process of brainstorming, so I do it the old fashioned way.)

I then divide the notebook into 7 sections:

1. General Outline
2. ICAs
3. Brainstorm
4. Next Time Notes
5. Chapter Summaries
6. Running Edit
7. Research

I'm going to discuss one or two items a day, otherwise this post would be a mile long and I'd probably lose interest in it halfway.

First of all, the General Outline. Now, I should admit that I am not an outliner. I know pretty much where I want the story to go, and I know where it's going to start, but much beyond that, I tend to be clueless. So I make a short list of the things that I do know, and then add to it as I go along. My outline is much more complete at the end of the project than it was at the beginning. :-) It may seem pointless for me to have one at all, but keeping one and filling it in as I go helps me keep the project as a whole in perspective.

The second thing I do is something I call "ICAs" or Individual Character Analysis. Each character has at least one page, front and back, where I write down not only the character's physical characteristics, but information about their family of origin (the family they were a kid in). I also add stuff like tidbits about the character's motivation, likes and dislikes, hobbies, strengths and weaknesses, most prized possession(s), worst fears, hopes for their future, etc. I know of writers who also use photographs they find in magazines, etc, and these pages are a good place to tape those in for inspiration.

I'll post my thoughts on Brainstorming next time. :-)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Project Notebooks, details coming soon!

So I've developed a system for writing that works really well for me. I even have a snazzy power point that I've developed to use for presentations. I've given it once, and will tweak it a bit for the teen conference coming up in a couple of weeks.

I basically put together a notebook for each new project I'm working on, and it becomes my bible until the book is finished. When it's done, it's kind of like a cool journal and a good reference to look back on, if needed. It's taken me a long time to figure out what works for me, and everybody's different so my system won't work exactly for someone else, but bits and pieces of it may.

After the teen conference on June 5, I'll post details about exactly what I put in my notebooks and you can see if there are pieces of it that will work for you.

And now, a teaser: I just made the most awesome project notebook for my current work-in-progress! Think all things Greek. :-)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Heather Moore's Women of the Book of Mormon


It's an honor to review this book, not only because I enjoyed reading it, but I've already quoted from it in presentations and lessons. This book is a collection of 12 chapters on the women who are mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Here are some of the highlights that I appreciated:

* Heather is a reliable source on the history of the Book of Mormon, not only scripturally but from a historical standpoint as well. She delves into the customs of the day, presents viable scenarios and situations that likely occurred for these women of whom so little is written.

* The book is meticulously documented in quotations/source material. Very well done.

* Heather does not throw criticism upon the customs of the day, even subtly. She is a good example of a non-judgmental historian who looks back on flawed societies and recognizes that it was what it was. She doesn't allow modern sensibilities to cast aspersions on situations that a contemporary reader might find frustrating.

* Alternatively, the author is still willing to give a "fallen" woman the benefit of the doubt, or at least a sense of compassion. Speaking of Isabel, the harlot mentioned in Alma 39:3, she says, "What desperation and misery drove a woman to the life of a harlot? Perhaps there was little or no choice in the sense that Isabel may have been born or sold into this diabolical practice."

* Eve is mentioned in the Book of Mormon, and as such receives a chapter of her own in this book. The analysis is a beautiful tribute to our first mother, and ties the Book of Mormon to the Bible in a significant and complete way.

* Practical application. In reference to the story of the Queen of King Lamoni's Father, the author says, "In our lives, by delaying our emotional reactions and waiting for all of the facts to come in, we might discover that we had viewed the situation wrong from the beginning. When we wait, pause, or even turn to prayer for guidance and direction, we find that the correct response will often make itself manifest." Each chapter has words of wisdom that tie the scriptural account to an application to modern life.

* The presentation of the book itself is absolutely beautiful. The narrative is coupled with stunning paintings by a variety of artists.

As I mentioned, I've already quoted from this book in a presentation at a women's conference in Idaho and in my calling as Gospel Doctrine teacher. I love that Heather is a contemporary of mine, that she's a woman and is so well-read. She's an amazingly talented writer and storyteller, and this first nonfiction effort on her part is extremely well done. As a fellow author of historical fiction, I appreciate the efforts that have gone into the research used not only in her Book of Mormon novels, but in this book as well.

This book makes a wonderful gift for not only women, but men, too! I highly recommend it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Observations from 13.1 miles

So I just ran my first half marathon. I observed some things along the way.

1. I should have gone ahead and used the porta-potty after crossing the start line. It seemed so prosaic, though, to enter a green outhouse just after beginning my first-ever race.

2. I think I managed to stay ahead of the three octogenarians with the walking sticks.

3. Vanilla Bean Gu, while not necessarily tasty, did not make me vomit. In fact, just as I was to the point where I was thinking I needed to eat something, there it was in the hands of an angelic volunteer like a beacon in the night. Oh good, come to me you gelatinous packet of crap.

4. Vanilla Bean Gu contains caffeine, which I suspect helped stave of the headache I usually get if I haven't had a vat of Diet Coke by about 8:30 a.m.

5. There are many different sizes and shapes of butts. At first, I confess I was mildly concerned about how I looked from the back as people passed me. By mile 11.5, I didn't care what they were looking at.

6. My son drew a happy face on my hand to help me think of him while I was running. Unfortunately, every time I looked at the happy face, I remembered a conversation he had with my daughter when we drove the course the week before:
Anna: I know, Mom. I'll get my bike and hide halfway down the canyon. Then I can join you.
Gunder: I have a better idea, Mom. Stay home.

7. Freddie Mercury makes a wonderful running companion. Were he not dead and gay (and I not married) I might just pursue him.

8. Mark was right--there were people wearing garbage bags for warmth. My guffawing father and I owe him an apology.

9. By the finish line, my fingers were the size and shape of Johnsonville Brats. We could have cut them off and had a bbq.

10. It may be possible, but I highly doubt there's a more beautiful course anywhere.

11. Grant Avenue stretches out in some funky twilight zone fashion between 21st and the finish line at 25th. The more you run, the farther away it gets.

12. It's the most amazing feeling in the world to see familiar faces along the side and hear them cheer. And hoping you're not so tired that you look like an absolute fool.

13. Even though my sister had to not run last minute because of a migraine, I still kept her close by wearing her jersey instead of mine. Plus, hers was a small and my medium was too big.

14. Roughly 140 people in my age group finished ahead of me, yet my husband made such a fuss over me that I felt like I'd beaten everyone, even the tight-muscled Vitruvian man-looking full marathoners that passed me halfway down the canyon.

15. I love my husband.

16. My dad and sister and three kids were at the finish line. It was overwhelming and awesome.

17. I have a medal now!

18. My brother-in-law and high school buddy just ran the full Salt Lake marathon in the same time it took me to go half that distance. I totally don't know where I was going with this and am getting depressed. Next!

19. I loved every single minute of this experience. Absolutely loved it. I ran/walked thirteen miles of my favorite spot on earth. It was divine and wonderful and so much fun. My wholehearted thanks to Catina, who talked to me about doing it, and my husband who overheard and then gave me the paid registration for Christmas in a new pair of running shoes.

20. Please, please bless that when I'm an octogenarian I'll have the wherewithal and physical ability to be doing a half marathon with walking sticks.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Interview

Michele Ashman Bell interviewed me and it's posted on her blog today! She's an amazing friend and does such a good job with her interviews. Check it out!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Isabelle 2 has been accepted!

My sequel to the first Isabelle book is going to be released January 2011! The tentative title is Isabelle Webb: the Pharaoh's Daughter. I'm so excited!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Sapphire Flute by Karen Hoover


It is with great pleasure that I review The Sapphire Flute Book One, The Wolfchild Saga, by Karen E. Hoover. The reason I'm finding pleasure in doing it is because I really, truly enjoyed the book. When I do reviews, I like to do them in bullet points, because it helps me think clearly and boil down what I thought of the book to its essence. So first, I'll include the book's backliner from Valor Publishing's site and then I'll tell you what I thought.

"It has been 3,000 years since a white mage has been seen upon Rasann.

In the midst of a volcanic eruption miles outside of her village, Ember discovers she can see magic and change the appearance of things at will. Against her mother's wishes, she leaves for the mage trials only to be kidnapped before arriving. In trying to escape, she discovers she has inherited her father's secret--a secret that places her in direct conflict with her father's greatest enemy.

At the same time, Kayla is given guardianship of the sapphire flute and told not to play it. The evil mage C'Tan has been searching for it for decades and the sound alone is enough to call her. For the flute to be truly safe, Kayla must find its birthplace in the mountains high above Javak. The girls' paths are set on a collision course...a course that C'Tan is determined to prevent at all costs."


What worked for me:
* The premise. I love the idea of a world in danger of destruction and not one, but two girls/women are destined to save it.

* The setting. The world of Rasann is full of magic and wonder, shapeshifters and mages. The physical settings are beautifully described and full of good imagery.

* The cast of characters. I liked the two main characters, Ember and Kayla. They are different, with varying strengths and weaknesses, and in this book they are fledglings. The potential for growth is evidenced right away, and it was clear to me as the reader that we will see these characters evolve throughout the series.

* The bad guy. Or woman, rather. There are a few bad guys to choose from, but I liked that although C'Tan is evil, there's a tiny spark of regret that surfaces every now and again. That makes her seem more real to me.

* The old-fashioned feel of the story. I like the use of horses and carriages. The absence of electricity is made up for with magic, which I was totally able to go with. Lights, for example, are "mage lights," lit with the use of magic.

* The author doesn't spare her main, likable characters from pain. Snapped bones, people nearly plunging to their deaths at the hands of a sadistic bad girl and her dragon--call me sick, but I appreciated this. An author needs to raise the stakes and put her characters through the wringer- Karen does that.

* The quick nature of the plot, once the story and characters are established, especially in the last third of the book. I was nearing the end of the story and picking my kids up from school. I waited for my daughter to come out of the building, and when she got in the car, I told her she had to keep reading to me while I drove to the next school. That's the mark of a good story, to me. If I don't want to put it down, that means I like it. :-)

* The overall skill of the writer. I found myself not wanting to rephrase things, or "fix" segments that I felt would be better expressed in another way. I felt as though I was in the hands of a good writer.

Possible issues with the book:
Now, admittedly I had to search for some, because nothing is perfect, right? That said, the things I had issues with are minor.

* I didn't care for Ember's mother. I understand her motivation, but just had a hard time warming up to her. That was probably the author's intention, though.

* There's a familial tie between the two girls that was never defined fully; I'm sure this will be delved into in the next book, though, which leads into my next point:

* I wanted the girls to meet! Also something that will occur in the next book of the series, I'm sure.

* I don't like that I'll have to wait a year to see what happens next. :-)

My final opinion of the book is that it is very well done, creative, and delivers a satisfying, climactic ending with enough resolution to hold the reader over until the next installment. There's an anticipation for the sequel, but the characters are in a good enough place...for now. It was a good reading experience, and I look forward to the next book. Now I'm passing it on to my kids, who saw it on the table and said, "Hey, what's that?"

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Toyota, Black Mamba and The Pants!

I've been watching the news and reading the paper with interest. Here's some of what has stuck out to me lately:

*The suit that O.J. Simpson wore when he was acquitted is going to be offered to the Smithsonian. My sincere hope is that the Smithsonian will say, "No, thank you."

*Toyota is being raked over the coals, among other things, for failure to alert the public for possible problems with their cars. Now GM is doing a recall on cars that may not steer well when driving under 15 miles an hour. Presumably, this will make the most-accidents-happen-within-two-miles-from-home statistic skyrocket. I'm thinking I should invest in a tandem bicycle for my family of 5. Might make school carpooling a bit of a challenge...

*My kids' school district sent home a notice that "Black Mamba" is now being banned from the schools in spite of the fact that it's not a illegal substance. Yet. Supposedly it has the same properties as marijuana. Now, I may not be remembering correctly and I threw the paper out, but I believe it can be burned as incense. Methinks school attendance would triple if teachers were allowed to use this in the classroom. ;-)

*The Norwegian Curling team's pants. Oh, how I loved those pants! The daily Facebook updates were a joy. I am a solid one-half Norwegian; I claim a special affinity to the pants.

*Lindsey Vonn is too unbelievably cute. Shouldn't be allowed.

*Kim Yu Na is the most amazing thing on ice I've ever seen and was a joy to watch. I did so with my mouth hanging open.

*Joannie Rochette is a beautiful example of grace and perseverance under extreme pressure and grief. What a lady. And a strong one.

*Gerald Imber wrote a book on William Halsted, America's "first" surgeon, entitled Genius on the Edge. In the book, Imber talks about how in the early days of anesthetic during dentistry, cocaine was used as a local. Um, yeah. Something tells me people didn't mind going to the dentist in those days. ;-) On a more serious note, though, the book looks absolutely amazing and I'll be buying it soon. Here's a link, if you're interested.

*First Haiti, then Chile. I am mindful of the fact that I live, literally, on a fault line. My home was built in the 40s. I hope to be able to find a sturdy doorway that will shield me...otherwise, please remember me fondly. (And may it not happen until both of my daughters are paramedics. I like to think of them as rescuers.)

*The Ogden Temple is going to receive a facelift over the next couple of years. I am ok with this, because the original design of the building has been totally botched, anyway. The architect designed the Provo and Ogden temples to be symbolic of the Lord leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. They were led with a "cloud by day" and "pillar (of fire) by night." The body of the temple's building itself was to represent the cloud, and the spire, which was originally painted gold, to represent the pillar of fire. Well, a couple of years ago a statue of Moroni was added to the spire, which was fine, of course, but THEY PAINTED THE SPIRE WHITE. Totally ruined it for me. I now look at the redesign pictures with anticipation. It's going to be beautiful.

Well, now that I spewed all of that, I feel better. Please feel free to agree or disagree. And have a fabulous March! I'm so glad we're done with January and February. Spring is in the air! My five-year-old said this morning, "Mom! The birds are back!"

So true- hallelujah, the birds are back!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Total and Complete Euphoria...


...or, What It's Like to Finish a Novel.

Best-selling novelist, Judith McNaught, made a comment like this once- and please bear in mind I am very loosely paraphrasing: Writing a novel is a very hard process and finishing is total bliss. She (McNaught) celebrates each finish and eventually begins on the next book, but only when she absolutely has to.

Now, I've read McNaught for years and find them very satisfying romance novels. (If you decide to try them, be ready to skim a few pages here and there. I'm just saying.) The hero grovels nicely at the end, the happy ending is guaranteed, all things told, I leave her books in a happy place. But I can kind of relate to her feelings about writing.

It's hard.

I know, wah, cry me a river. I'm published, which is a blessing I don't EVER take for granted. I'm doing something I love-except sometimes I don't love it so much. I just finished writing my sequel to Isabelle Webb, Legend of the Jewel, and I'm so glad to have it done. I went through a bit of a bad patch with some writer's block (really, I was allowing too many other things to interfere with the writing, but I'm going to call it writer's block) and the book is well over a year late.

It weighed heavily on me all year. It was this thing hovering over my shoulder that would never leave me alone. A burden that grew increasingly heavier each day. There are a few elements that combined to kick my rear end back in gear, but truthfully, I consider the finishing of this book to be directly attributable to my friendship with Josi Kilpack. If she, Becki Clayson, Jody Durfee and Ronda Hinrichsen hadn't been gracious enough to allow me to join their writing group, I think I would still be looking for the motivation to finish.

I spent several late nights in Josi's husband's office doing writing marathons with Josi and counting my lucky stars that I could work with someone who knows how nice it is to have the companionship while hammering away at a plot and characters that don't always fall into line. Not all writers are solitary--this has been one of my biggest challenges with this career. It's a very solitary pursuit, and for people who like to yak, this can be especially challenging.

So yes, I am currently over the moon with euphoria. I don't know what the evals will say, I'm not sure what my editor will want me to change, I don't know if anyone will even like it at all--but it's finished. I can't begin to tell you what a relief it is.

Unlike Judith McNaught, I don't dread beginning a new project. This, other than finishing, is my favorite part of the process. I love to brainstorm and research. At this point, the book is still perfect. It's a prize-winner in my mind- it hasn't yet been cluttered up with my imperfections. It will be the book that the world will embrace and say, "WHERE has this book been all of my life?" But until it's on the page, it's just a pipe dream, so I have to try to pull it out of my head in a way that will make sense.

When I was a kid, had someone told me I'd one day be a writer I would have passed out with joy. (I suppose that means I was a nerd. Probably means I'm still a nerd.) So the fact that I'm doing this really, truly does make me happy. The times when it's hard, I remind myself something Stephen King says in his book On Writing: "The worst three hours I ever spent there were still pretty damn good."

All things told- it really is true.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A little writing advice, if you're interested. :-)

I posted this on the Scribbling Teens blog, but figured I'd include it here, too, because there are writers who read author blogs and like to share ideas. Maybe this will be of use to you- share your thoughts!

So you hear someone say that a book was full of expository writing, and you're not sure what they mean. Here's my simple explanation. I say simple because that's how I think. ;-)

There's a movie from the 80s called The Great Muppet Caper. Maybe you've seen it? Well, I'm old, I do admit it. There's a part in the movie when Miss Piggy is talking to her new boss, Lady Holiday. Lady Holiday is going on and on about her degenerate brother, Nicky, and Miss Piggy says, "Why are you telling me this?" Lady Holiday says, "It's plot exposition. It has to go somewhere."

What she's saying is this- the information about Nicky is stuff the viewer needs to know, and there's no other way for us to know it unless Lady Holiday talks about it. Would she, if it were real life, say that much to Miss Piggy about Nicky? Maybe or maybe not.

There have been books I've read in the past that have gone something like this:

(The two sisters, Mary and Ann, are talking about their mother's funeral.)

"As you know, Mary," Ann said, "mother hated roses. We cannot have roses at the funeral. When she was young, her brother, Humphrey, stomped on her rose bushes and told her that tending them was a worthless waste of her time."

I'm sure you can see the problem. (Besides the fact that Humphrey would have come out of those rose bushes severely wounded.) If Mary and Ann grew up in the same house together and had a traditional sister relationship, Mary already knows all that about their mother. Ann doesn't need to tell her. (The only reason I can think of that Ann would need to say that to her sister is if she's so scattered, nervous, sad, whatever, about their mother's death that she's just rambling to her sister. It would show that she's not thinking clearly or she's really upset.)

Sometimes in writing, it's tempting to put information that the reader needs to know into conversations between characters. Sometimes that's ok. Suppose Ann was telling a friend about the rose thing. That would make sense if the friend didn't know much about Ann's mom. Other times, though, it needs to go into the narrative. (The part of the story that's not dialogue.)

The reason some writers feel the need to put "plot exposition" into dialogue is because they're worried that there's too much narrative. We've all read paragraphs that have gone on forever, either with too much description when we want to get to the meat of the story, or too much backstory all at once. If a character is having a flashback, for instance, as a reader I don't want it to be a long one that will pull me out of the story's action.

One suggestion to avoid too much narrative is to intersperse it throughout the story. The reader doesn't need to know all at once every detail surrounding Mary and Ann's mother's dysfunctional relationship with Uncle Humphrey. In fact, if it's going to be an issue that comes into play later, it's information that needs to be spread throughout the story to keep the pace going and the suspense up.

So when you're writing dialogue, make sure you think carefully about the characters who are interacting. Ask yourself these questions:
* How well do the characters know each other?
* With the characteristics I've given them, how will they interact?
* Do I have them sharing useless information with each other, things they would already know?

Remember to avoid plot exposition in dialogue at all costs! Leave that to Lady Holiday and Miss Piggy. :-)

Horrible things are happening- am I allowed to be happy?

The day I learned of the earthquake in Haiti, my stomach just fell. I looked at the images on my computer screen and wondered how on earth people ever pick up and carry on after that kind of horror.

I watched with pride as my church quickly sent relief planes and help was sent from LDS people across the border in the Dominican Republic. Certainly I don't mean to toot the LDS horn to the exclusion of the many, many other organizations that have provided help, I just was so proud to be part of a group that quickly offers compassion and help. I also have noted with extreme satisfaction LDS.org's main page, encouraging members worldwide to contribute however we can.

I saw images of bodies piling up, of mass graves, of crude burning pyres right alongside the streets, people pulled alive but broken from the wreckage, mothers grieving for lost children and children for parents, and it made my heart hurt. To know that the country suffered so horribly before the earthquake made the calamity seem like salt in an open wound.

The first day, I saw an outpouring of shock and grief. The days passed, and I noticed a shift. Supporting Haiti was becoming a political thing. People were angry at Hollywood for taking up the cause. I heard snide comments that President Obama only cared about the issue because the victims are black. I became very angry. Who cares if movie stars are helping people who are living through hell? It's not Haiti's fault. And when someone lifts a hand or donates money to make a life a bit better, where is the crime? How could this thing have possibly become political?

And then, I found myself thinking less about Haiti and more about my own life, my own problems. It's only natural, I know this. I would catch myself praying for things and then wondering how I possibly had the right to worry over little things when my Heavenly Father has other children who need him now more than I do. I suppose the beauty of God is that he can care for us all, and I know that, but I was reminded of how I felt after 9-11. I would laugh at something silly or find joy around me and then feel a twinge of something. Guilt? Probably it's guilt. A sense of sorrow for a moment that I'm finding joy and other people are living through unspeakable pain.

I remember when Saturday Night Live came back on the air after 9-11. It was a beautiful, welcome relief. It was done with love, with gentleness, it resurrected the knowledge for me that, even when horrible things happen, good still exists. We should grieve. We should help. We must do all we can to lift the hands and heads that hang low in hopeless agony. We must also cling to hope and joy and faith in a Maker who allows things to happen in this life, possibly to show the rest of us how to be humane, how to love and serve.

As I continued to watch attempted relief efforts in Haiti, and still do watch, I am reminded that, as the Proverb says, "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick." That we must cling to hope like it's all we have, and work as hard as we possibly can for the betterment of our own lives and those within our realm of influence. I know that the problems and trials in my own life, while in comparison to others may seem small, are still real and I can pray for help without feelings of guilt or inadequacy. I will keep it in perspective- one of my favorite quotes from Robert Fulghum is the notion that there are three kinds of lumps in life: a lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast. I've learned to try to categorize the lumps and make sure I'm not acting as though I've a lump in the breast when really it's a lump in the throat that may not deserve as much attention as I'm giving it. And yet, the lump in the throat may still need a prayer or two, and it's ok.

My heart continues to ache for those who are suffering in Haiti, and everywhere in the world where unspeakable things happen that I know would test my faith and my sanity. History is replete with examples of hell on earth, and yet in those stories there are silver linings to the clouds, blessings from a benevolent God who sees all and loves all, and sometimes those blessings come through not only his angels in heaven but also those he has stashed here on earth. They are all around us.

I'm going to try to be an earthly angel. And to smile and feel joy and hope, even when things are bleak. The human spirit is resilient, and we are here to learn from the pain and find joy in the journey. So I answer my own question that, yes, even when horrible things happen, we are still allowed to be happy. I find comfort in that.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

January- yuck

As much as I try to begin each year with a sense of optimism and purpose, the January does its best to beat me down. I enjoy fresh starts, I like reevaluating and setting new goals, I enjoy everything that a new year is supposed to be about. So why is January so hard?

Is it as hard, I wonder, for people who live in sunny climes? I keep thinking maybe it's the weather where I live, and I suspect it may have a lot to do with that. I live on the mid-northern end of the Wasatch Front in Utah, and inversion is in full swing this time of year. (That means a blanket of cold air and crap is trapped in the valley and I'm ready to start wearing a SARS mask.)

I'm looking out my window and I see dirty snow. When it's winter, I want it to be either in the act of snowing or I want to see a beautifully deep blue sky with sparkling clean snow on the ground and in the trees. I don't demand much, do I?

Isn't that just like life, though? (Here comes the meaningful metaphor.) Things aren't always perfect, they don't always appear as we'd like them to. The trick is to find joy in the journey. So, against my better instincts, I'm going to list things I do like about January.

1. The house seems nice and simple after putting away all the red Christmas clutter.
2. As much as I enjoy having my kids at home, it's nice to get back into a routine when they go back to school.
3. I like the thought of planning for a new year that's full of fresh possibilities.
4. When it snows, it's beautiful.
5. Getting through it feels like an accomplishment.

Ok, that's a really lame list, but it's better than nothing. :-) And now, sitting here at the end of January, I have Valentines Day to look forward to, and then by the first part of March, I'm usually feeling pretty good.

Is it just me? I should ask my Florida relatives if they have January blahs. Well, wherever you are, I offer a big woohoo that we've survived January and I wish you good things to come from here on out. :-)