Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

by Marsha Ward

What a lot of experiences we've all had this past year! New books, new technology, new babies, new adventures. A lot of the same lies ahead of us, and much more. Each new year brings challenges, satisfactions, and griefs. This is life.

I want to encourage you to find new things to enjoy in 2011. I'd like you to find one new author to read and follow, and one new book genre to explore. If you like mysteries, check out historical novels. If you like romance, check out Westerns. Expand your horizons. 

Write a note of appreciation to your favorite author. Find a way to deliver it. Are they on Facebook? LinkedIn? Blogspot? Wordpress? Twitter? Reach out and discover. If they aren't updated on technology, send it to their publisher or agent.

May you all have a blessed and prosperous New Year!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wishing for an eReader this Christmas?

                                                 By Trina Boice

E-readers are on every book-lover's wish list this Christmas, and probably on yours too.   The prices are getting so much more reasonable these days too.   Here is a quick comparison guide in case it's on your shopping list this year.  If you're the avid reader in the family, then print out this blog post and leave it where your loved ones will see it and get the hint.

What are your choices?
*  Amazon's Kindle 2 or DX
*  Barnes & Noble Nook
*  Borders' Kobo eReader
*  Sony's Reader Pocket, Daily, or Touch Edition
*  Apple's iPad
*  Kogan Technologies eBook Reader
*  Spring Design Alex eReader
*  Skiff Reader

Things to look for:
*  Battery life: 20,000-30,000 page turns
*  Software that allows you to purchase from your favorite bookstore
*  Comfortable hold
*  Can be registered as an Adobe Digital Edition reader
*  Decent photo viewer
*  Memory card slots for additional storage
*  Bookmark feature
*  Can navigate through the index and pages easily
*  Displays a pdf layout larger than 6 inches
*  Comes with free ebooks
*  Headphone jack
*  Protective cover
*  Decent price!
*  Wireless
*  Size of display

Which one do I want for Christmas?  Whichever one ends up under my tree!  Otherwise, I'll end up with this one:

Here's a great site I found with some pretty thorough reviews:
Don't worry if you missed Cyber Monday; there are plenty of great deals still out there.  Good luck!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Book Review: "True Miracles with Genealogy" by Anne Bradshaw

In the Old Testament, book of Malachi, 4:5-6, we read:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:

And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

We are seeing this prophecy fulfilled as every day, men and women all over the world are feeling compelled to seek out their ancestors and compile their family histories. It doesn't seem to matter what religious affiliation the searcher belongs to - the yearning to know where one came from is the same.

Author and avid genealogist Anne Bradshaw addresses this yearning in her new book, "True Miracles with Genealogy: Help from Beyond the Veil." A compilation of stories submitted by people all over the country and around the world, this book speaks to the heart of every genealogist and all those who have ever felt a stirring from the other side, a knowledge that we are not alone when our loved ones pass on, but we are still connected through those family ties.

In this book you'll read stories of people who found their ancestors in the most miraculous ways. A chance phone call, stumbling upon an old, nearly buried tombstone in a cemetery, the urging to look just one more time - these events yielded not only names and dates, but newfound love of the journey for the researcher, and feelings of eternal connections.

Whether you've been doing your family history for years, or have just started, or just enjoy reading about the process, you'll find something to delight and inspire you in this remarkable work.

I received a free copy of this book for review purposes. This did not influence my thoughts in any way.

Book Review: "The Fourth Nephite" by Jeffrey S. Savage

In Jeffrey S. Savage's new book, "The Fourth Nephite," we meet Kaleo Steele, who's in a jam. He's the star of his high school's football team, but his seminary teacher just caught him with a bunch of his friends, holding a beer can. He hadn't taken a sip, but his teacher is duty bound to report him, and he won't get to play in the big game. Kaleo is more than frustrated by this turn of events - he's the star. He should be in that game. But Brother Mortensen, his seminary teacher, has other plans, and sends Kaleo on a quest that will be more mind-blowing than anything Kaleo could have ever imagined.

Sent back in time to meet the Prophet Joseph Smith, Kaleo begins to understand that the stories he hears in seminary aren't just mumbo-jumbo, but real events in the lives of real people. As he comes to care for the Prophet, he's stunned to learn of a plot to steal the gold plates from Joseph Smith, and he must decide how to act. Oh, and there's a girl. Of course there has to be a girl, or there's not really a story ...

Jeff Savage is a remarkably talented author who has the ability to reach out and grab his readers, whether it be through his tech thrillers, his think pieces, his fantasy novels (written under the name J. Scott Savage) and now in this LDS Young Adult adventure. He knows what his readers want, and he knows how to give it to them. This results in highly addictive storytelling, and in the case of "The Fourth Nephite," you or your teen reader will also learn about the era of Joseph Smith while you read.

If you're looking for an exciting, clean, faith-promoting book that will take you on a thrilling journey, well, you just found it.

I was provided with an ARC of this novel for review purposes, but that didn't influence my review. Jeff influenced my review by writing a dang good book.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Making Friends Monday

Thanks to Tristi Pinkston for having me on her blog for Making Friends Monday.  Here is some info about her, including how to get to her own blog. 
Tristi Pinkston has been blogging since 2006.  On her main blog, ( she covers everything from writing tips and the life of a published author to kid funnies, spiritual thoughts, and embarrassing moments. She also has a weight loss blog, one for writing challenges, another for her fictional characters … and she lost count of how many others she has.  You can find the links for them on her sidebar.
Tristi is the author of five published novels and a whole kit ‘n caboodle of unpublished novels.  Right now she’s focusing on cozy mysteries, although she has written historical fiction in the past and plans to write more in that genre.  She works as a freelance editor and a virtual book tour coordinator.  She loves taking long naps, being charmingly annoying, and watching good movies.  She’s a Mormon, a homeschooler, a Cubmaster, and most of the time, a headless chicken.


Mainstream & Independent Titles Score Top Honors in the 7th Annual “Best Books” Awards

LOS ANGELES –, the premiere online magazine and review website for mainstream and independent publishing houses, announced the winners and finalists of THE “BEST BOOKS 2010” AWARDS (BBA) on October 26, 2010. Over 500 winners and finalists were announced in over 140 categories covering print and audio books. Awards were presented for titles published in 2010 and late 2009.

Trail of Storms
by Marsha Ward (iUniverse) was named the Finalist in the Western Fiction category. is an online publication providing coverage for books from mainstream and independent publishers to the world online community.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Finding Your Theme

by Marsha Ward

Several years ago, I had a wonderful week in cool Prescott, Arizona, where I attended the Hassayampa Institute for Creative Writing at Yavapai College. In the friendly atmosphere created by the limited enrollment and the nurturing faculty and staff, I got to know many fine folks, and did revisions on work that had been mired in mud for a long while. The intensive writing workshop helped me focus on aspects of my writing that I had neglected. I had a chance to reach deep within myself to find emotions and conflicts that needed to be present in my characters to make them real.

The most important thing I found, though, was my theme, my reason for writing. I'd agonized over this issue for years. Why DID I write? I knew I felt compelled to do so, but did not know the underlying motivation.

It took me by surprise, when I was asked a single question, that the answer I gave was my theme, my motivation. The question was, "What do you want to share with the world through your writing?" I was blown away when my answer provided me with the purpose I'd been seeking to identify for such a long time.

I said, "I write to help people find hope amidst their trials, to learn to overcome, not just to wallow in misery."

Now you may think that doesn't apply to a novelist's work, that it's more suited to an essayist or a self-help guru. However, as I look back over my books, I think it fits nicely into what I have written. My principal characters pick themselves up in various ways and go forward with their lives. They illustrate how personal attributes and growth can help a person persevere.

I was very glad to have found my theme at long last. However, I don't go into every writing session thinking, How can I make my characters toe the mark and hold to the theme? I build my characters' attributes, motivations, and conflicts carefully and then let their actions come forth. Because I do this legwork out of my value system, the theme will be there, in one form or another, when I have finished.

How do you find what you want to write about? Maybe the same question I was asked will help you isolate your theme, too.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It’s in the Details

While my first book, “A Question of Trust,” was in the first stages on my computer, my brother-in-law, Larry, read a chapter. In the chapter my protagonist Stacey Willis is at a cattle auction in Burley, Idaho. Larry said, “Carole your story is really good, but I you need to go to an auction.” I thought I had been to one, but the one I went to was not a cattle auction. He volunteered to go with me, so we met at the auction. It was an eye-opening experience. Seeing, hearing, and smelling the sights and sounds of authentic cowboys and ranchers in action completely changed the chapter. The re-write was so much better. Stacey accidentally bought a pig. It was something I could see her doing and the chapter continues to be one of my favorite that I’ve written.
As writers we are told to write what we know. But for most of us what we know really limits our stories, so learning from others and doing research is a great way to expand the possibilities. Still, don’t rely on a Google search or a wikipedia article. There’s nothing like experience or at least talking with experts. Experts are all around us. If your character flips burgers, talk to someone who does that—they are the expert. In that same book, Stacey is professional photographer, so I had photographer friend read the manuscript. “Professionals don’t snap pictures—they shoot.” I had messed that word up a few times. It was a small and easy change, but one that would have shown me as someone who didn’t know what she was talking about, had I not had a photographer read the story first.
My newest book, Sun Tunnels and Secrets,just like my other two, is set in Grouse Creek, Utah. For me to make a story come to life, it’s important to get the setting real. I lived in Grouse Creek for six years, my husband is from there, but even with that, I’ve gotten some of the directions wrong. I failed to have my husband read it before publishing and I’m directionally challenged. It won’t matter to 99% of my readers, so I’ll have to apologize to the few who will notice the mistakes. Recently I had a conversation with a man who recently retired from police work. He was in charge of the entire Cache County Jail. I asked him, if I could ask him some questions for a book I was writing. He said, “please do and tell your friends to talk to me because I hate reading books when authors ignore proper procedure.” After talking to him for ten minutes, I realized I had many details wrong in my current writing project. It takes time to get the details right, but it will make the difference in writing that sings or falls flat.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Counting Words

by Marsha Ward

As I drown in slip-sliding paper falling toward me and my fingers on the keyboard (most of which I could shred, once I extract the odd computer disk, wedding announcement, and hardback book from the pile), it occurs to me that I could share how I keep track of my word count as I write.

Now understand, this can be as complex or as simple as I want to make it. I can use the Excel chart my friend J. Scott Savage sent me several years ago that nags me incessantly, or I can add and subtract words as I write and edit, or I can keep a simple running tally at the beginning and the end of my writing day. I kind of like the simple style nowadays, so I'll tell you how that last thing works.

I love the 9.5 inch by 6 inch one-subject notebooks for this task. They're not so big as to be in the way, and not so small as to disappear amidst the rubble on my desk. I open it up and draw three equally-spaced lines down the page. This gives me two sections of columns to fill up.

In the left-most column, at the top, I put the date. I can put anything else in the nature of notes in that column, like the times I start and end, the scene or chapter I'm working on, and how many hours I work. I see I have a notation saying slippery elm bark and chamomile tea. Ha! I know what scene that one was!

The second column is where I put the beginning word count opposite the date. If I'm starting fresh, this is zero. If I want to, I can add the word count when I do a save, when I get up for lunch, or what-not (I usually only put down the last three digits, or hundreds). The last figure I put in that column is the final word count of the day, unless I want to do a total of words written underneath it. I finish the day with a horizontal line drawn under all the notes for the day, in both columns.

The other section of two columns is for when I get to the bottom of the page. You knew that, right?

How do you find your word count at the beginning and end of the writing period?

If you're in Word, look for a menu item called Word Count. It might be in the Tools menu. That's where I'd look first, because that's where it is in my ancient Word 2003. Before you click it, highlight all your text. Then click Word Count, and you'll have a rough estimate of your words. I say "rough," because it will count every asterisk (*) and Chapter Heading, but it's good enough for starters. Do this again when you quit for the day, and you have the second count.

Or, you can use the software program I now use, yWriter5, which tells me at the bottom of the main window how many words I write that day, along with the total of words in the project. I put those numbers in my notebook at start and end of day.

yWriter5 and its antecedents were written by novelist and computer programmer Simon Haynes of Australia. He couldn't find a writing software that suited his needs, so he wrote it. He updates it quite often, sometimes to meet suggestions of users, but it's a lean program written to use few resources of your machine. It even runs off a flash drive, so it's highly portable.

You can find yWriter5 at (Hal Spacejock is the hero of Simon's futuristic sci-fi series). There are several other useful programs to be found there, as well as a link to the new how-to wiki created by the folks in the next paragraph.

This software is free, not only no-cost, but free of nasty surprises like virii, Trojan horses, and other malware. There's an active community of users in a Google group who support each other. The old hands answer the questions of the newbies, and Simon occasionally pops in, too.

Can you tell I like yWriter5? Let's see how many converts I can make. Let's see, |||...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Knowledge is power...and free!

                                                                  By Trina Boice

Can you believe it’s BACK TO SCHOOL time already? While some parents are celebrating the idea of a quiet, clean house during school hours, others are sad to leave behind the carefree fun of summer spent with their children. My kids think I’m crazy because I absolutely love the smell and anticipation of opening up a new textbook.

Parents who are just a bit envious of their children’s opportunity to learn new things at school, I have a goldmine of resources for you! The following web sites include thousands of video lectures from some of the world’s top scholars! Knowledge nirvana! And they’re all FREE!

One of my favorite quotes, and one worth teaching your children, is:
“The more you read, the more you know.
The more you know, the smarter you grow.
The smarter you grow, the stronger your voice
When speaking your mind or making your choice!”

Courses include detailed lecture notes, a calendar of teading assigned for each class and a description of major assignments.
Offers student-made documentaries about social issues as well as a list of weekly readings.  
Professors Martin Evans and Marsh McCall lecture on great works by Virgil to Voltaire.
Berkeley's lectures online
Alternate site of Berkeley's lectures.

If anyone is interested in Entrepreneurship and learning more about what it takes to own or run a business, I highly recommend the Standford eCorner ( ) or the Harvard business school ( ) podcasts. Both are great resources that provide outstanding insight into running your own business.  Others include:

Sister Thrifty a/k/a Trina Boice

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Inspirational Quotes

The next time you write, yet feel uninspired, nervous, or discouraged, remember these great words of advice:

E.L. Doctorow:
"Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon."

Leonard S. Bernstein:

"Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time…The wait is simply too long."

Sidney Sheldon:
"Usually, when people get to the end of a chapter, they close the book and go to sleep. I deliberately write my books so when the reader gets to the end of a chapter, he or she must turn one more page. When people tell me I've kept them up all night, I feel like I've succeeded!"

Tom Stoppard:
"Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little..."

Meg Cabot:
“Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.”

Thomas Wolfe:
“What I had to face, the very bitter lesson that everyone who wants to write has got to learn, was that a thing may in itself be the finest piece of writing one has ever done, and yet have absolutely no place in the manuscript one hopes to publish.”

Ray Bradbury:
"You fail only if you stop writing."

Jack London:
"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."

Beth Mende Conny:
"Whether or not you get a single word on paper, the sun will rise, the earth will spin, the universe will expand. Writing is forever and always a choice—your choice."

Josh Billings:
"The great art of writing is knowing when to stop."

Thanks to Karlene Browning at LibrisPro for rounding up these amazing quotes!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Book Review: The Silence of God by Gale Sears

When I was fifteen, I had the incredible experience of being able to go to Russia with a group of other teens on a tour designed to teach Russian teens about free enterprise. While there, we toured some of the huge cathedrals and learned the history of religion in the country, how many of the churches were destroyed or turned from their original purpose. Our tour guide explained how some of the churches were still operational as such, but not all. I was saddened to look upon these beautiful buildings, designed to glorify God, but instead, reduced to mere pieces of incredible architecture.

"The Silence of God" by Gale Sears very much speaks to this theme. Going back to 988 A.D. and the introduction of Christianity to Russia by Prince Vladimir and moving forward in time to the Revolution in the early 1900s, we see how important religion is to the lives and emotional well-being of these people who have been placed in some of life's most difficult circumstances. We meet the Lindlof family, the first LDS family in Russia, and follow them as they try to adhere to the tenets of their faith in the midst of harsh adversity, including time spent in Siberia. We learn of the Bolshevik theology and are shown the leaders of this movement in a more human light than we ordinarily view them. We are shown friendship and the power it has to preserve life.

Of necessity, Sears fictionalized many aspects of the Lindlof's story, while the basic structure is factual. It's impossible to know everything a person thought, said, or did when looking back at them through the lens of time. Sears did a remarkable job of keeping the tone of the country consistent through word choice and the structure of her dialogue.

I did wish that some sections had been fleshed out. This book could have been easily twice its length and I would have stayed with it until the last word on the page - the events depicted are fascinating and some were only given a mention where a full page or even a chapter would have done it more justice. That said, I give "The Silence of God" two big thumbs up and highly recommend it.

A free copy of the book was received for my review. This gift did not influence my thoughts in any way.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Who Is the Boss?

WORK is necessary for a writer to become successful.


But have you ever heard this before:

writers hate to write,

but love to have written?

I’m not saying this applies to you or me, but there are some writers for whom this does apply. They are writers who struggle with being their own boss. They let every little distraction take them away from their work. You’ve heard the excuses: the house is dirty, weeds are in the garden, kids need my attention, husband keeps interrupting, I just don’t have time to write, and on and on it goes. Some of these are good excuses. I've used them myself, so I understand. Really I do!

But what some writers forget is...

they are the boss of their writing careers.

It is up to them to set the pace. 

It is up to them to get the product finished. 

And it is up to them to see their dreams come true…or not.

Are you going to dream about being a writer?

Or are you going to work at becoming an author?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


The only person who can answer that is YOU! But before you answer let’s go over a few things. You don’t want to make a snap decision.
To be a writer you must feel! Wait a minute…that was too easy. Everyone has feelings. But can everyone infuse their characters with emotion? Stories are made up of characters full of bubbling emotion that reaches out and draws readers into their world. You as the writer must feel to infuse your characters with emotion. To be successful you have to be excited about writing.

Sometimes it is dog-gone hard to be excited about writing because writing is not for sissies. Nope! There are going to be days of rejections, days when you feel as though your writer’s group stabbed your story to death, and days of bad reviews. But hang on because if you have a passion for writing that will see you through tough days. And look at it this way, you’re feeling and this is good for your writing. Bottle up all those emotions and apply them to your characters. Though, don’t forget to be honest.

What do I mean by that? Don’t fake emotions. Let your inner-self show in your writing. Your readers can spot a fake a mile away. Simply put, don’t write what you don’t believe. Be yourself.

In the same vein, you may idolize Mary Higgins Clark, but you can’t write like her. You might be able to pull it off for a little while, but the true writer will come through and the fraud will be discovered. Only Mary can write like Mary. Only you can write your story. But you’ve got to want it badly enough to hone your craft.

To hone your craft you’ve got to WRITE!!! EVERY DAY!!!

So in a nutshell if you can feel, be excited, be honest, and hone your craft you just might have what it take to be a writer.

I’m sure there’s something I’ve missed. What would you add to this list?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

2010 LDStorymakers Conference Recap


Yes, I know the conference was 3 weeks ago, and it could be argued that the "Recap Momentum" has dwindled by this time. I could pretend that I waited on purpose to fire up the enthusiasm once again, but this is, if nothing, an honest blog. The truth is that it's taken me 3 weeks to figure out how to make a powerpoint into a decent video on YouTube. So let's have the appropriate Oooos and Ahhhhs for my newly acquired technical brilliance.

It's okay, I'll wait...

Thank you. Back to the recap.

The 2010 LDStorymakers Writers Conference dawned bright and early (extremely early for those doing bootcamp). The halls were filled with yawning attendees and staff, but the anticipation was still palpable. After bootcamp the conference proper started with food, laughs, a music video, and sufficient inspiration to kick off the next two fun-filled days.

I was stopped several times during the conference with people requesting that we make the Becoming Legendary presentation available. I aim to please, so for the first time on the internet, here is the 2010 LDStorymakers Becoming Legendary Presentation.

**Please note: 1) Due to sleep deprivation, the quote at the end is by Jennifer Laugran, not Laughlin (I'll fix it when I can) and 2) It is set to the song "Fly Away" by Jennifer Thomas, who was generous enough to let us use it. Please visit her site for more great music:**

Things ran smoothly, and there was more than enough information, friends, and writerly atmosphere for all. The keynote address by Dave Wolverton/Farland had us all ready to dive back into our writing, and we had a great time learning from and associating with our visiting agents & editors. Just so you know, both agents were impressed with the conference and the friendly atmosphere. They were also impressed with the fresh ideas they heard and expressed a desire to be invited again in the future. (Yea!)

If you'd like to relive some moments of the conference, visit the 2010 Conference Highlights page for photos, links to videos, a list of First Chapter Contest Winners, and to find out the 2009 Whitney Awards winners. There is also a page devoted to links of blogs about the conference from our attendees (you might even be on the list). We also have dozens upon dozens of photos from our photographer, but we would love to have any that you took and want to share. (Instructions are on the page.)

All in all we had a fantabulous conference, and want to thank all those who attended! Dates for the 2011 conference will be posted at the beginning of June, and look for more information as time goes on.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Your Story People

For the month of May, I thought for the writing tips we'd discuss your story people--your characters.

Creating characters to people your story can be a bit intimidating. You don't want stick figures numbly walking through your plot just doing what you want them to do. Don't get me wrong you need control, but there's a trick to it. And it has to do with characterization and building believable characters readers will see as three-dimensional. They can't be all good, nor can they be all bad.

There are specific points to cover while creating a character, and we'll talk about one each week:

* breathing life into your characters
* giving your characters knowledge
* making your characters appealing
* controlling your characters.

Today we'll tackle breathing life into your characters.
In life no two people are alike, so it should be with your characters. All of the characters in your book should have a life of their own. They walk differently, talk differently, and think differently. It's the differences that set characters apart. You need to make certain that when a particular character is on stage that your reader will know who he/she is. To do this you must:

1. give your character a commanding presence
2. make sure his/her presence fits the role
3. determine whether your character complements other characters
4. give your character appropriate identifiers that fit him/her.

Giving your character a commanding presence means to give them a trait to be remembered. i.e. busybody, shy, outgoing, rude, fun-loving, etc.

Making sure your character's presence fits the role means to make sure you don't have a main character who is rude and suddenly he becomes very thoughtful with no motivation.

Determining whether your main character complements other characters means to make sure the commanding presence of your characters aren't the same. You shouldn't have four shy characters. Remember contrast makes characters memorable.

Giving your characters appropriate identifiers means to have their actions fit them. i.e. a shy character may hide her face behind a lock of hair, bite her lip, or chew her fingernails.

Can you think of other ways to breath life into your characters?
I'm sure I've only scratched the surface. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


The Whitney Awards Committee announced the recipients of the 2009 Whitney Awards on Saturday, April 24, 2010 during its glittering gala at the Provo Marriott in Provo, Utah.

Robison Wells, president and founder of The Whitney Awards, began the evening speaking of the significance of LDS fiction and the efforts of the Whitney Awards Committee to help elevate and inspire quality writing. He reminded the audience of Elder Orson F. Whitney’s statement in 1888: “…a pure and powerful literature can only proceed from a pure and powerful people.”

David Wolverton received the "Outstanding Achievement Award" in honor of his lifelong efforts to support budding writers. In his typical smiling manner, he reminded the audience he still stood ready to teach any student who had questions about the writing process. As a testament to Wolverton's writing prowess, he also received the “Novel of the Year” award for his book In the Company of Angels, a self-published novel. He spoke of being woken one night by a dream of handcart survivors pleading that their story be told.

 David Wolverton. Photo: Green Hills Photography.

Elder Gerald N. Lund, a former member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, received the "Lifetime Achievement Award" in recognition of his books, including The Work and the Glory series. His 1983 book, The Alliance, is considered to have helped open the doorway to acceptance of LDS fiction.
Elder Gerald N. Lund. Photo: Green Hills Photography.

In an astonishing announcement, two authors tied for “Best Novel by a New Author:” Riley Noehren (Gravity vs. The Girl) and Dan Wells (I Am Not a Serial Killer). Noehren mentioned her amazement at receiving the award, as her book was not “LDS-themed.” She was “humbled.” Wells spoke of the surprise some have that an LDS author would write horror. But he continued, “My book is about a kid trying to do the right thing and trying to overcome the natural man.”

Upon receiving the honor of “Best Romance” for her book Counting the Cost, Liz Adair mentioned with great emotion her uncle who died before his baptism. She dedicated the award to him.

Stephanie Black’s Methods of Madness received the “Best Mystery/Suspense” award. She wrote it with “99% perspiration and 1% inspiration” and felt awe that a book so difficult to write could win this award.

The “Best Youth Fiction” award went to Carol Lynch Williams for The Chosen One. Her driving force in writing this book about polygamists was to show readers that “Mormons and polygamists aren’t the same.”

John Brown and his Servant of a Dark God received the “Best Speculative Fiction” award. He was unable to attend the awards ceremony.

The “Best Historical Novel” award went to G.G. Vandagriff. She mentioned her forty years’ effort in writing The Last Waltz. She asked her husband to stand in recognition of his support during the twenty-five year illness that coincided with writing the manuscript. She emphasized the Savior’s redemptive powers in her healing that allowed the book to be brought forth and published.

Jamie Ford received “Best General Fiction” for her book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Ford was unable to attend the gala.

The Whitney Awards Committee recognized the authors below as finalists in the following categories:

Counting the Cost, by Liz Adair
Illuminations of the Heart, by Joyce DiPastena
All the Stars in Heaven, by Michele Paige Holmes
Santa Maybe, by Aubrey Mace
Previously Engaged, by Elodia Strain

Lockdown, by Traci Hunter Abramson
Methods of Madness, by Stephanie Black
Murder by the Book, by Betsy Brannon Green
Lemon Tart, by Josi Kilpack
Altered State, by Gregg Luke

Princess of the Midnight Ball, by Jessica Day George
Fablehaven IV: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary, by Brandon Mull
My Fair Godmother, by Janette Rallison
Bright Blue Miracle, by Becca Wilhite
The Chosen One, by Carol Lynch Williams

Servants of a Dark God, by John Brown
The Maze Runner, by James Dashner
Wings, by Aprilynn Pike
Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson
I Am Not a Serial Killer, by Dan Wells

Tribunal, by Sandra Grey
The Undaunted, by Gerald Lund
Alma, by H.B. Moore
The Last Waltz, by G.G. Vandagriff
In the Company of Angels, by David Farland

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford
No Going Back, by Jonathan Langford
Gravity vs. The Girl, by Riley Noehren
The Route, by Gale Sears
Eyes Like Mine, by Julie Wright

The presenters announcing the awards were (in order of appearance): Sarah Eden, Sheila Staley, Shanda Cottam, Hillary Parkin, Dan Wells, Marsha Ward, Tristi Pinkston, Marion Jensen, Jaime Theler, Julie Coulter Bellon, Crystal Liechty, Kirk Shaw, Lisa Mangum, Annette Lyon, David West, Rachelle Christensen, and Robison Wells.

Opening and closing prayers were given by Stephanie Black and John Ferguson.

Finalists for the Whitney Awards were announced February 5, 2010. Anyone may purchase a ticket to attend the annual Whitney Awards gala. To nominate a book published in 2010 for next year’s awards, and for more information, visit the Whitney Awards nomination page.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Carole Thayne Warburton's Notes from LDStorymaker Conference

Marion Jensen alias Matthew Buckley needs to write for television--the guy is a comic genius--total deadpan with killer jokes. He did the welcome and introduction.
Next I attended Laura Rennart's--How to Ace the Audition. She said to have an elevator pitch memorized focusing on Who? What? Where? and Why should I care? What is the unusual detail that sets your story apart? Get at the HEART! The elevator pitch is something that you can tell someone about your book in under three minutes. She was great. FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES and do your research. Don't send a thriller to someone who doesn't publish thrillers.

Next I attended Josi Kilpack's session on getting the most from booksignings and launching parties. I've been friends and an admirer of Josi for about six years. I've attended several of her awesome book launch parties and hope to do the same thing when my next book comes out. Which I hope will be before I die. Everyone keeps asking me and well that's all I can tell you for sure. Anyway Josi sends out about 350 postcards even to those who couldn't possibly come to the party, but it's a way of creating an event with your book and letting everyone know where they can get one. In other words don't forget to include online ordering information. Make sure that you know what else is going on in the community and to not schedule the party at the same time. Josi does her launch parties at a local independent bookstore in her community.

Then I attended Jeff Savage's session on villains. Jeff is one of the best presenters that I know. He is professional. He is courteous. He is generous with advice. And most important he is funny. The main thing I learned is that I need a more menacing and clear villain in my work in progress. But that the villain has to be believable and basically like the hero--they should have clear motives.

By this time on Friday 4:00--I was really tired. Still recovering from the lingering effects of pneumonia, I was drifting a bit during Stephanie Black's session on techniques for mystery/suspense writers, but she is really good also. Stephanie's book just took the Whitney for the best suspense of 2009. I haven't read it yet, but it looks really creepy doesn't it? I learned that she loves Jack Bickham, so I've resolved to read what he has to say. One of my favorite quotes from her session is "Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water." Kurt Vonnegut.

The keynote speaker for Friday night was David Wolverton/David Farland highly successful writer and teacher. They honored him with a lifetime achievement award Saturday night at the Whitneys. At our dinner table I sat by some friends, Anne Bradshaw, Jolynne Lyon and Amber Smith. We discussed how much better the food was at this conference than one we'd been to that was not a storymaker conference, but I won't mention any names.

Saturday: One of my wip (works in progess) is to write the story of a friend of mine who has had a very interesting life so I attended a session by Mary Greathouse on writing memoirs. She has a lot of great sites to go to and good information. It was geared more to those who want to write family histories, but I still found it helpful.

Sarah Eden: A storymaker whom I've never met--we're a very large group now--was hilarious. My goodness she has a lot of energy. She is not a fan of the old time greats, like Charles Dickens, at least in how they have pages and pages of description that isn't necessary to the story. She showed us how detail could be used to show character and so forth. How details should be appropriate for the character, to use and example she put up a scene where two guys are working out in the gym and discussing their outfits and the periwinkle walls. She had contests to have the group fix the passage. One changed the gender, one change their sexual orientation, and one changed the wording, but kept the scene. It was fun and telling.

Stacey Anderson: "The Santa Letters" has done a tremendously good job at self-promotion and taught us how to do the same. Lots of what she does, I realized I'm just not cut out for. I have a hard time putting myself out there. But there were things I could do and I tried to focus on those. One good idea was to send out News releases to the media-- not press releases. She worked for a newspaper and knows that most press releases get tossed. Look for ways your story can be made into news. She sent her book to some influential people--like Laura Bush and got a personal letter back from her. She could do that because her book related to drunk driving. Mine--well they are suspense. I'd have to come up with another angle. Many of my friends and I help each other with blog tours and social networking. Those are things I can do.

Ok, by this time I really wanted to go home. I still wanted to visit a bit more with my mother in Orem, but at 2:00 I had an important meeting with the senior editor Kirk Shaw at Covenant--my publisher. I'd never met him before so of course was just a bit nervous since I wanted to pitch my next book to him, well as luck would have it, he sat down in the open chair next to me at lunch. This made the meeting with him easy and worthwhile. He gave me lots of encouragement and some good ideas on how to get this next book published. It's a mystery set in Yellowstone National Park.

By now I was late to the final workshop I would be attending, Dave Wolverton's. He gave great advice on making our books more successful--one was to strike an emotional cord. People love books that will make them laugh and make them cry. Another was to broaden your audience. He told us how he made a character with a German name who had a Japanese heart. The book was very successful in Germany and in Japan. I was so tired though, I ended up leaving early, saying goodbye to a few friends out in the foyer and I was on my way back home--geared and ready to WRITE!

I love to write and am happy to feel like I'm getting back in the game.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


What does branding have to do with writing?

Y’all know what branding cattle means. A rancher marks his livestock with a brand so everyone knows that animal is his.

And so, how do writers brand what they write? Well, it doesn't involve branding irons. Every time a writer writes she/he is branding the book so readers will know who wrote it. Their writing stands for something. Think about it…what do you think when you hear the names J.K. Rowlings, Stephanie Meyer, or Mary Higgins Clark? You think of their stories and the impressions made. You know that if you go into a store and ask for a J.K. Rowlings book, you’re going to receive a magical story where one scrawny kid with limited powers will overcome evil. For Stephanie Meyers you’ll get good vampires helping a mortal girl develop courage. And Mary Higgins Clark will put ordinary people in life-threatening situations, but good will survive.

These authors have branded their names with their writing. But what if they choose to write in another genre? Does the brand still stick? Usually it does because branding has to do with more than wizards and vampires. It has to do with the author’s voice.

To show you what I mean, I’ll pick on myself. I’ve written several books that are inspirational fiction. The Forgotten Warrior was about a young woman with a black belt in karate who was going through a very bad time in her life. Just when she thought things couldn’t get worse she was thrown back in time to Helaman and the stripling warriors. As the story develops the protagonist learns that faith builds courage.

My next book was An Angel on Main Street. No time travel here. The story is about an eleven-year-old boy who gets in "noble" trouble with the law. As the sheriff escorts the boy home, they come upon part of a nativity in the center of town. No one knows whose is building the scene. He tells his sick, little sister about the nativity and that no one knows who is building it. She tells him angels are and when the baby Jesus comes he’ll make her better. The book follows the boy as he tries to find the nativity builder to bring the baby Jesus to his little sister. He learns that miracles do happen.

These are two very different stories, but they are both branding my name. How is that? Both stories are inspirational fiction and there’s my writing voice.

I have another YA time travel coming out in August, but I’ve also submitted a romantic suspense novel to my publisher. AND the thread that keeps them in common is, you’ve got it: writer’s voice, inspirational fiction, and my name. When someone sees my name they will know what will be in the book.

So how do you go about developing your brand? Focus on, what your writing says. What are the common themes in your work? What is it that will make readers ask for your books by using your name? Once you've answered those questions, go for it and write your best book.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The End=The Choice

A couple of weeks ago, we discussed the beginning of a book and how to start your story with change that comes into your character’s life. Last week was about the middle of your story and how your character needs to climb the story mountain. So this week we'll focus on the end of your story, the climatic scene and what needs to take place.

Your protagonist has been doing her/his best throughout your story sometimes chasing red-herrings, but always trying to stay on course, and fighting to find the solution to the problem that threatens her happiness. The climatic scene then has to present your protagonist with a choice.
Yes, there have been many choices made all through the story, but this choice is THE CHOICE. This choice tests your character’s soul. This choice is the biggest deal of the entire book, the choice that will make or break your story.

Your character has to make a decision that shows her true SELF not only to the other characters in the book, but to those faithful readers who have followed your protagonist through hundreds of pages, read every chance they had, and lost sleep worried for her. You owe them. So what about this choice? Let’s break it down.

The choice is:
  • Pivotal to the story
  • Demands action
  • Once made cannot be undone
All through your story your protagonist has been waging a war against danger and now the climax needs to deliver. The battle is nearly over and your hero must do the ultimate task to win. Will she be steadfast holding to truths she reveres as sacred or will she fold? It’s up to you.

Don’t be afraid to let your character suffer just before this final decision. Remember the saying--it’s always darkest before the dawn--it applies here. This is also a great place to balance emotion with action. Help your reader feel your character's pain. This moment should also be the big reveal, where all the secret facts are put before your character. So there’s going to be a lot of feeling.

A word of warning: the climatic scene and how your character acts must be believable and logical. Make sure you’ve laid the foundation so that the climax gives the reader fulfillment.

If you’re writing a series you don’t have to fulfill all the expectations of your reader. Think of the Harry Potter series. At the end of book one “he who must not be named” was still at large, but do give your reader a wind down.

The end should also have a quick wrap up. All issues have been resolved and everyone lives “happily-ever after.” This should be short, sweet and fulfilling.

Now, not all stories have a “happy-ever-after”. I remember reading a book where the ending was very sad. Some readers like that. Some authors like that, too. And there’s nothing wrong with it. You have to decide what kind of story you want to be known for and go for it. Just remember that with everything you write you’re branding your name. Branding your name…a good subject to talk about next week.

So I’ve told you what I thought about the climax, what do you think? What else is needed in the climatic scene of a book?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Climbing the Story Mountain

Last week for the writing tip we talked about the beginning of a book and that a story should start with change that will alter the hero’s life. He/she will never be the same. Now we’re going to talk about the middle of your book.

For me, as I’m thinking of a story, I’ve always felt that if I have the beginning and ending in mind I can start writing, and that the middle will take care of itself. But that is not to say that the middle is not important or needs crafting. The middle takes your hero/herione on a hike up a story mountian to the climax. Each scene MUST build tension, develop even more change, infuse complications, and keep the hero/herione focused upon reaching his/her goal, which is the top of the mountain and the climax of your book. So let’s break it down with a do and don’t list.

  • Build tension
  • Add complications
  • Demand action

  • Delay—belay
  • Add unbeatable odds
  • Rehash
Let’s talk about the do list. Your story is building, one scene at a time and a misstep could make your hero fall off his story mountain. Plus, with each step forward your hero comes upon complications. These complications have him make either a good or bad decision, but he’s always moving forward which builds tension. Complications demand action from the hero to overcome. What the hero decides to do with each complication adds another layer to the story and can provide important information that he will use to help win the climax or reach the mountain peak.

Now let’s focus on the don’t side of the middle. You’ll notice that with delay I added belay. If you delay your story with unnecessary information, such as having your hero stray from the path of reaching his goal to solve his problems, you belay progress and your story dies. Belay means to stop or quit, but it also means obtaining a hold during mountain climbing. The hero can't get stuck as he climbs his story mountain. Don’t belay the story with unnecessary holds (information). This happens in many ways for instance, you’ve come across some wonderful research that you want to include in your story, so you add it and then all of a sudden you don’t know what to do next. If you find yourself in this situation it’s because you’ve belayed your hero and taken him in a direction he doesn’t want to go. Some call this writer’s block, which is really a story roadblock because you’ve taken a detour off your story mountain. Always be on the alert for this malady.

Another problem is having unbeatable odds without an equalizer. Always make sure your hero has something that will give him strength as he faces his foe. Think of David and Goliath. Goliath was a mighty foe, but David had an equalizer…his sling.

The next don’t is rehash. I’ve been guilty of this and it’s easy to fall into this habit. Because I read one chapter at a time at my writer’s group I fell into the habit of rehashing the story within each chapter. I did this so my fellow writers would know what was going on. DON’T do this. Your reader is very savvy and has stayed up into the wee hours of the night reading your book. If you rehash the reader will grow weary, think your hero is stupid, and wonder if the writer has Alzheimer’s. Never underestimate your readers. They have memories, they have been keeping score, and they are anxious to see what happens next, not rehash the past.

There you have it. Always remember each scene needs to build toward the climax! Everything the hero thinks, says, and does moves the hero farther up his story mountain.

What are some tips you’ve found that helps in writing the middle of a story?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Secrets of a Good Chapter One

Okay, you've decided you're finally going to sit down and write a book. You've always wanted to do it, but now you're actually going to type the words...Chapter One. You know what you want to say, but you're just not certain where to start.

How about...In the beginning...? Wait a minute that has already been done. So, what about...It was the best of times. It was the worst of times...? Used already. Then there's the good old standby...It was a dark and stormy night... Okay, so I was only teasing, but my point is your beginning needs to be orignal. Not something from a book you've read before, nor a quote from a movie. Of course, you already know this. But while we're on the subject avoid cliches as much as possible. That said, let's move on and discuss the secrets of a good chapter one.

The first secret is start your book at the point where change comes into your character's life. This change can be many things: a stranger, a murder, a missing person, an illness, a new love and etc. But whatever the change is, it should affect the protagonist's status quo. It can be good or bad, but whatever it is life will never be the same for your protagonist. The second secret, this change will affect your character's everyday life, so you have to also set up his/her world. Before your story started your protagonist had a life and you need to show us a glimpse of it. A tricky thing to do, but if done just right you'll evoke empathy in your readers and make them want to follow your character to see how he/she will handle this "change" through the book. And please don't forget to show how the protagonist feels.

A couple of weeks ago in my writer's group one of my friends said, "Kathi's a head person." I wasn't sure what she meant by that, so I asked her. She said, "You're always telling us to write our character's inner thoughts." I thought about that for a while, and she's right. I do like to know what's going on in the main character's mind because that shores up motivation for their actions, plus builds on emotions--emotions of not only the character's, but the readers as well.

After you show a glimpse of your character's everyday life and the change that has happened you need to apply the third secret, the continuing result of the change. This will carry through to the end of your book.

To show you how these secrets work I'll give you an example: your protagonist is a thirty-six-year-old waitress, who has always dreamed of owning her own bakery, but she's in a dead-end job with no prospects of saving enough money (this is her world, her everyday life). One day her friend tells her of a cake decorating contest and the winner will receive $20,000 (enter the change). But there's an entry fee, and she'll have to take time off work. If her boss were to learn of her plans, he'd make sure she worked a double shift on the day of the contest (danger and conflict). She starts saving (continuing result). Notice we added danger and conflict. Does that remind you of another writing tip from a few weeks ago: want, tension and outcome? It should. They are all working together in chapter one and helping you set up your story.

There now, you have some of the secrets of a good chapter one.

Do you know other secrets to a good chapter one? Please feel free to share them, and I'll add them to the list.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Finding Characters on the Bus

by Rebecca Talley

My super cool husband recently took me to Hawaii for a second honeymoon and it was awesome. I loved every minute of it. Hawaii is gorgeous and the best part, besides the ocean, snorkeling, surfing, food, luau, and sea turtles, was that there was no snow. No snow in sight. just warm, perfect weather.

My husband decided he wanted to see (and bodysurf in) the big waves on the north shore of Oahu. Since we were ataying in Waikiki and didn't have a rental car (you can walk to anything in Waikiki), this decision entailed riding a bus to the other side of the island (for $2.25 you can ride a city bus all over the island).

Though it took a long time, almost 2 hours to get there, the ride was a goldmine--at least for me. I have never seen so many characters assembled in one place. I wished I'd had my notebook to write down all the details of the people I saw. (I live in rural CO and never, ever ride public transportation). Who knew such colorful people rode a city bus?

There was the 70-something woman in a short mini skirt and high heels, carrying a dog in a little cage thing. She had long red hair and lots of jewelry. I imagined she was trying to recapture her youth, trying to look young and beautiful because the man in her life left her because of her aging body.

Then a 20-something local guy decided to befriend us. His coarse language made my ears turn red, but he was full of great information. He told us all about where not to go in Hawaii. I imagined he was a surfer, looking to avoid the responsibilities of life, just wanting to find that perfect wave.

Another woman with dark hair tied up in a ponytail, told us she'd moved to the island a year ago. I noticed that she as well as the other local guy had a speech pattern that included "yeah" after most of their sentences. I imagined she came to Hawaii looking for peace and to get away from the pressures of her job as a prosecuting attorney in Los Angeles.

The most colorful of them all was a skinny Hawaiian guy with long, matted black hair that stuck up on top of his head. He had wild eyes and dark, dirty hands. He didn't say anything, but he pantomined fishing and then gathering the fish, I assume, into his net. He pawed at the air, close enough to me that it made me uncomfortable. I imagined that he'd taken one two many drugs and his brain was fried and he was reliving, in his damaged brain,  a time when his grandfather took him fishing.

The next time you get stuck on creating a character, consider riding the public bus or train. You may see people who become characters in your next book. And, don't forget your notebook!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Elements of a Story

What makes a good story?

Think about this for a while, don’t answer right off. While you’re pondering think about the stories you have loved. You know, the ones that instantly pop into your mind whenever anyone asks you “what’s your favorite book?” What is it about that story that you admire? Is it the protagonist, the circumstance, the purpose, the adversary, or the catastrophe that appealed to you? There’s a pretty good chance that it was all of those things because a good story juggles all five:
  • Protagonist
  • Circumstance
  • Purpose
  • Adversary
  • Catastrophe
It would be rather blah to just have a story about a character living in perfect circumstances and never wanting anything, never overcoming something and never living through a crisis of some type. What’s the point?

As writers our job is to tell the best story possible and to do that we use all five story elements. Yep, all of them.To get you going, see if you can write a paragraph that explains your story using all the story elements.

For example I’ll use my book, The Forgotten Warrior.

Sydney Morgan (protagonist), a sixteen-year-old girl with a black belt in karate,
learns (circumstance) her mother has cancer and is forced to tolerate her absentee father (adversary) who comes back into her life. She can’t forgive him for leaving, plus she’s worried (purpose) about her mother and little sister and has to take care of them. Just when she thought things could not get worse, Syd is given a clear stone that sends her back in time (catastrophe). Syd’s desperate to find her way back home.

Of course, there’s much more to the story such as she meets Tarik, a stripling warrior, and falls in love. She also meets Chief Captain Heleman, who asks her to train the stripling warriors to fight. But through everything that happens to Sydney, the five elements are the pulse that beats throughout her story: protagonist, circumstance, purpose, adversary and catastrophe.

You’re probably thinking that was easy for me because my story is already written. Okay, let’s plot a brand new story using the five elements.

Protagonist – Jesse, a sixteen-year-old girl,
Circumstance – has no idea who her parents are. She’s lived in one foster home after another.
Purpose - Jesse wants to belong to a family. The Davenports’ are her last chance. They do volunteer work at an assisted living center and take Jesse with them.
Adversary – As Jesse listens to an elderly woman trying to recall a memory, Jesse is suddenly thrown into the scene in the elderly woman’s mind.
Catastrophe – A shadowy figure threatens to kill Jesse if she intrudes on the woman’s memories again.

Okay, this is a story I’m toying with right now. I have a basic idea and know where I want to end up. Story elements help reinforce and flesh out the character’s inner and outer conflict, which will continue throughout the entire book until the very end.

Do you think using these story elements will help you as you write your book?

Let me know what you think, and give it a try.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Oh, It's Only An Ebook . . .

I've always considered myself a reasonable, pretty low key person. I enjoy life, I enjoy my family, and . . . I enjoy writing. As an author, I've had some neat experiences. I have books published by traditional publishers, I've self-published, and I've released books in the now-popular ebook form. I have enjoyed each and every avenue and have learned much.
That being said, I had a comment addressed to me a week ago that really got my creative dander up.

I just released a romance novella ebook. It's one I've rewritten a couple of times over the past few years, and because of life and other projects, it took me a while to get it just the I wanted it.
Oh, I was proud of it when I finished and I was excited to finally release it to my millions of fans (in my mind, at least) hoping the story would touch some romantics out there.
I started advertising and marketing it, talking to many people about it. One day I had a lady say to me:
"Hey, I'm so excited to read your new book! Where can I get it?"
I replied, "You can order the ebook from my website, then either read it on your computer or print it up and stick it in a folder."
"You mean it's not published?" she asked.
"Yes, it's published," I replied. "I published it. I wrote it, I set it up, and you can buy it. I'd say that means it's published."
Her expression changed and she said, "Oh, but it's only an ebook."

Now, because I'm as meek as a lamb (people who know me think otherwise) I bit my tongue and let the comment slide. I smiled, or rather, I winced, and swallowed the bitter bile her words produced.
Only an ebook? Only an ebook, she says! This is my baby being cast aside! Saying it is only an ebook is like saying, "Oh, your child only came in second," or " Oh, your ring is only a cubic zirconia," or "Your child only got a B+ while mine got an A." It's like saying, "Your son is only a scout while my son is an eagle scout," or "Your pearls are only imitations," or "You only have hair extensions, mine is real."

Come on! Why is an author of an ebook not taken as seriously as an author of a printed, published book? I love ebooks. I buy them all the time. There are some great authors out there who make their work available through ebooks. And they are making money! So my new book is an ebook. So what? Does that rank me lower on the totem pole of the writing world?
Absolutely not!
Writing is an amazing job. and whether your book is traditionally published, self-published, or self-published as an ebook, seeing the finished product is very satisfying. You spend countless hours working on a writing project. You write, you learn, you write, and you learn some more. Being an author is an ever-learning profession. There isn't an author out there who can honestly say his or her writing is perfection and there is nothing more they need to learn. Every author should be taken seriously. Every author should take their writing seriously.
And every reader should take every form of book seriously (unless, of course, it's marketed with a crayon-drawn cover, hole punched, and twisty-tied together.)

If you are a writer, everything you write is of value. Never stop learning and growing, and never, ever, ever give up. You can go as far as you want to go. And even if you never reach best seller status, just know that you have something important to say, and by saying it and putting it out there for the world to read, you have indeed reached your own personal best.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

From Disaster to Dilemma to Decision—How to Gain Control?

Recap of last week:

Three parts of conflict—want, tension and outcome.
Want: what does your character want.
Tension: how badly does he/she want it.
Outcome: should be a surprise (disaster) but could be pleasant depending upon where you are in your story.

So you’ve had the drama with a scene full of conflict ending with a disaster. What do you do between scenes of conflict? There needs to be something there, some kind of down time where your character can catch his/her breath and so can your reader. Always keep in mind that your reader has been through the grinder right along with your character, and they both need time to take stock of the situation. As your character thinks about what he/she should do next, so will your readers. They want to follow your character through the transition between conflicts. But there’s more going on here because transition is where you will control the path your character takes.

What will you do? Or, to put it another way, what will your character logically do? Always remember there is a process and it must be logical or you’ll lose your readers.

What follows disaster? Dilemma. Your character needs to regroup. To help with this, think about the five phases of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Will a character experience all five? It depends on your character and the disaster in his/her life. There very well could be denial and a good dose of anger. Bargaining may take the form of reasoning. I would caution against too much depression, but by all means if the situation calls for it show sadness. And then, at the end of all this . . . acceptance and a decision to act.

During this transition time always make sure the story is progressing down the path you need it to go. If you pave the path correctly the disaster, dilemma and decision will be logical and a path your reader is willing to follow right along with your character. How about an example of all this so you can see it in action?

We’ll use the example from a few weeks ago when we discussed “the push”. We had a man in his late thirties, who had just broken up with his girlfriend. His girlfriend leaving him is his disaster. Next he’ll go through some of the steps of grief, as he walks through his workdays in a haze. He experiences a good dose of dilemma for he is angry with his ex for leaving and sad that his dream of a family has vanished with her. On his lunch break he decides to go to the park. He sees kids on a swing, a boy with a dog and a woman with a stroller. Deciding to take a look at the baby, he stops the woman with the stroller.

NOW we’re leaving the transition and going into a scene. See if you recognize want, tension, and outcome (three parts of conflict). He gazes down on a beautiful sleeping infant. As he chats with the woman, he notices her beautiful dark, chocolate-colored eyes, her easygoing nature and her low, sexy voice. In their conversation, he learns she is the baby’s nanny. (Suddenly his “want” awakens.) The clock on the courthouse tower bongs. She immediately excuses herself saying she has an appointment and leaves. (Here comes tension and outcome in one big swoop.) (Another transition appears as he leaves the disaster.) He has no way of getting in touch with her (sadness), so he decides (decision to act) to go to the park every day at the same time in hopes of meeting her again.

Did you see the pattern of control, conflict, control? Can you have conflict, control, conflict? Sure. Once you understand this concept of conflict and control it will become second nature to you as you learn to think, live and breath through your characters as they travel through your story.

Next week let’s talk about the elements of a story.

May your writing muse be with you. ;0)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

English Mishaps

by Marsha Ward

Agent Nathan Bransford had a
blog post earlier this month about malaprop/mispronunciation/homonym errors. The comments are hilarious. Well, maybe not intentionally, but prolly because they point out errors that our so bad!

Some of the favorite, or should I say least favorite, errors the commentors see other's make in using the English language are using loose when a person means lose, choose/chose, lie/lay, their/they're/there, peeked/peaked/piqued, your/you're, and breathe/breath.

Also mentioned were the misuse of apostrophes, which drives me wild. A local sign acrost from my public library made me crazy until it was repainted due to weathering: "Condo's for lease". Condo's WHAT? Condo's bedrooms? Kitchens? Living rooms? Its enough to make a writer cry.

Note: my misuses of English in the above section are intentional. I know the difference between probably/prolly, are/our, other's/others, acrost/across, and it's/its. Really, I do!

Since I saw Nathan's blog on usage errors in English, I've been noticing and writing down egregious examples of such erroneous usage in printed work:

Shutter used in place of shudder, dribble used in place of drivel, diary used instead of dairy, viscous instead of vicious, hurtling instead of hurling, pummeling instead of plummeting ("pummeling through the sky"!), and whicker (an animal sound) used where the word should have been wicker (a type of furniture).

Some of these examples should never have made it past a competent editor.

Another thing that bothers me is weird use of common idioms like saying "doggie doggie world" instead of "dog-eat-dog world," doing something "on accident" instead of "by accident," and using "one in the same" in place of "one and the same." It's like hearing fingernails screeching down a chalkboard.

Then there was the email I received a week ago from an actual e-book vendor who should have known better: "The Oscar's aired this week and we have alot of the Academy award winner's movie tie-in eBooks featured at . . ."


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Building Characters Carefully

You might have many books about writing on your shelves at home. But here is one you may want to consider picking up the next time you go to your health food store . . .

[Wait. A health food store? Yep. You heard me correctly.]

I found this thick gem of a book while working on my doctorate in health. It's called, Homeopathic Psychology: Personality Profiles of the Major Constitutional Remedies. This thick textbook explores REAL major personality types.

Why would the emphasis on "real" be important for fiction authors? For this very reason: to make your book change from being a two-dimensional story with little black letters on an off white-colored page, to a three-dimensional world with characters in trouble, you must know how to construct characters that breathe, that are truthful to the human condition. To do that, you need to understand REAL human behavior.

It is one thing to study a book on writing and learn a few pieces about constructing a character. It's quite another thing to write in truthful manner about human trials and challenges, whether fictional or not. Which brings me back to this great psychology book I feel should be on the shelves of every fiction writer.

Dr. Philip M. Bailey spends 409 pages exploring the truth of human personality, giving 35 distinct characteristic types culled from years of research. When I first discovered this book, I was struck with the potency it contains for fiction writers to write truthfully about the human condition.

For example, one of those 35-personality styles that Dr. Bailey explores is medically called Natrum Muriaticum; it is a personality type that refuses to deal with emotional pain. Did you know that Natrum Muriaticums go far beyond the typical "can't cry," far beyond simple introverts, or those who avoid intimate relationships? Dr. Bailey elaborates that Natrum Muriaticum's pathology typically originates years prior to adulthood. Abandonment figures into their approach, but not just simple abandonment. No, Natrums experienced abandonment on top of deep sensitivities previously present as a child. Natrums generally had parents who provided physical means, but were not nurturers. Natrums typically have additional buried grief which leads to carved out feelings of intense loneliness. These feelings generally manifest later in adulthood as rebelliousness, recklessness, clinginess, or even a strong need to control.

Can you see how understanding the depth of human psychology, with all its various facets, can help you create a story world that is authentic and not predictable?

As we write the worlds that our characters inhabit, knowing "them" on a deeper level will help us to write true to human nature and the conditions that lead us to who and where we are. It is as we wield truthfulness that our readers subconsciously sense the poignancy of truth in our stories, no matter how far out the setting. It is then that our stories become classics, because they speak to the deepest of our human experiences.

Another personality type Dr. Baily refers to is Lycopodium. This is a personality style, according to Dr. Baily, which manifests bravado more so than any other personality. He describes, though, the source of this particular kind of bravado: anxiety. Hmmm, who would have "thunk" it?

The funnest treat this book offers for creative fiction writers is the description of physical appearance that typically attends each personality style. It's a bit astonishing at the research that has gone into this book. For example, Lycopodiums typically have "gaseous distension of the abdomen, as well as distended veins and haemorrhoids [sic]" (see page 113). Yikes. But how helpful to have these kinds of specifics as you are "peopling" your story world!

Years of study went into the writing of Homeopathic Psychology: Personality Profiles of the Major Constitutional Remedies. See if you can't find your own volume. It holds endless and fascinating possibilities for the next story you write.