Monday, November 21, 2011

Learning from NaNoWriMo

Zig Zigler once said "If you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time."

That has applications in many realms of life, but I think it applies especially to writing.  During this National Novel Writing Month, I've realized just how important setting goals is. All of the other 11 months of the year, I just try to write what I can when I can. During November, I have a fixed mark that I'm shooting at and the target is set high. By setting my sights high, I try harder, I find more time, I put more effort into writing and lo and behold, I usually hit and exceed the mark.

The most important I have learned is that having a plan is like laying the track for a train. It takes a while to build, but once it is down, the vehicle can take a lot of cargo a long way quickly. 

I'm serious about writing and so in making my writing plan for 2012, I'm going to be thinking of ways of incorporating setting the mark high for all 12 months of the year. I hope that you'll chime in with your two cents. What did you learn from NaNoWriMo, and how has it affected your writing?

-Michael Young, ( author of "The Canticle Kingdom" and "The Last Archangel"

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I know you'll appreciate this

Trina Boice

This picture made me laugh out loud.  Since you're reading this blog, you're the kind of person who will think this is hilarious too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bitter Blessings Leaves a Sweet Taste

(Shirley) Thank you for coming to the cemetery today. Sorry about the rain, but at least we’ve got my big golf umbrella to stand under. I love the sound of rain. One thing I don’t love is reading cliché “conversion stories.” They make me want to gag on my Postum.
“Bitter Blessings” may be classified as a conversion story, but I think it is so much more. For one thing, it’s not sappy. It’s actually more like a delicious mystery, with a compelling twist that I did not see coming. Each character is true to their role, and the protagonist, Megan Randall (did I spell that last name right :o)?) is not a perfectly-picked-on Cinderella.
Thank goodness.
Megan has trials, indeed, with family deaths and trauma handed out to her right and left. She shoulders her load for a long time, but then finally breaks, just as a real human being (like me) might, and has to deal with added regret and sorrow. (Also just like me.)
But hold on! This book is not without its lighter moments. I had to laugh out loud when Megan’s friend, Adam, described some prom dresses he’d seen in a catalogue with a shudder and the words, “There was lace and big bows and poufy skirts.” Having raised six sons, I can just hear the perplexed and dismayed tone in his voice when uttering those words.
Well, well, look who’s coming. If it isn’t Christine Mehring herself. Look out for that headstone, Christine. Here, get under this umbrella with me.
(Christine) Hello, Shirley. I'm so glad you were willing to meet me here today. Most people get a little skeevy when they find out how much I enjoy walking in the cemetery but I think the atmosphere here is just dense with stories, and besides, it's quiet and people tend to leave you alone.
(Shirley) Especially if you're standing in one spot, reading headstones. Hey, I have to wonder, have you ever lost anyone close to you?
(Christine) Only my grandparents, all of whom were dear to me, and very elderly. So far, the rest of my family has been kind enough to stick around.
(Shirley) That is nice of them. Your description was so close to the heart that I’m curious just how this story developed in your wondrous little brain.
(Christine) I just have a slightly overdeveloped imagination. :) Actually, I start stories with what amounts to a couple of snapshots in my head - a beginning scene and an end. Watching my characters get from point A to point Z is what makes everything worthwhile. As the story developed, I realized I wanted to accomplish a couple of things with it. First, I wanted to write LDS YA fiction that would have appealed to me as a teenager. I read a lot as a kid, and I wanted to like LDS fiction, I really did, but I always left it feeling like, well, let's just say that Polly Perfect Protagonist and I didn't have much in common. Second, I wanted to explore how a "typical" LDS family would handle the need to share the gospel in a situation where they couldn't just bear a testimony or offer an invitation to church.
(Shirley) Well, it really worked. From the greenish thumb that sends tendrils through your book, I’m thinking that you probably have a fern at home, or did when you were a child. I loved your description of lying on the floor and looking up through the fern’s branches and feeling transported to another place. Are you quite the gardener?
(Christine) I am an outdoor gardener only. I've actually had my license to own houseplants revoked due to criminal neglect. My mother is the queen of houseplants and the ferns belong to her.
(Shirley) Hey, look, the sun’s coming out. Let me just move this umbrella… oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to dump that water down your neck. It’s almost like going swimming in the waters around French Polynesia, isn’t it? No? How do you know, have you ever been there?
(Christine) I haven't ever been there. My imaginary self is an accomplished sailor who spends at least half of each year blissfully island hopping. Unfortunately, my real self gets seasick in the bathtub. Maybe someday my imaginary self will tie me up, buy a boat, stock the hold with Dramamine and off we'll go. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
(Shirley) How are you at crossing your toes? Oh. Never mind. That makes your eyes cross, too. No matter. It’s so nice to feel the warmth of the sun and the warmth of love that you so skillfully wrote at the end of your novel. I do hope this cemetery doesn’t mean that this is the death of your writing career.
(Christine) I hope not. It certainly isn't the end of writing, or the end of killing characters off. I'm currently working on a murder mystery for the LDS adult market. It deals with a woman who comes back to her small hometown after a long absence just in time for the suspicious death of a person she used to know. I love complicated characters with buckets of motives, secret personal agendas, quirks, conflicts, doubts, and deeply held convictions. Mysteries seem to be my natural home. No matter which genre I choose to work in, there's always going to be a puzzle to solve.
(Shirley) Oh, look, our ride is here. Hm. There’s only one seat left up front. I’ll take it. You go ahead and ride in the back where you can stretch out. Go on, there’s plenty of room, all the coffins have been unloaded. That’s what you get for killing off your protagonist’s families. There you go. Nice and comfy? Good. Let’s go out to eat. What do you say to some good old all American hospital food?
(Christine) Sounds good to me. Can I have your jell-o?

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Whitney Awards - Nominate!

Have you heard about the Whitney Awards? Pull up a chair and let's chat.

In the national market, you have a ton of prestigious book awards that are presented every year. You've got the Caldecott and the Newbury for children's books, the Edgar for mystery books, the Nebula and the Hugo for sci-fi, etc. The Whitney Awards honor excellence in LDS fiction. Established in 2007 by author Robison Wells, the Whitneys were created to help raise the bar in LDS fiction and showcase all the things that are so amazing about this market. It's been exciting to see how awareness of high-quality LDS books has risen since the awards program was launched.

How does it work? Let's say you've read a book by an LDS author recently that you really enjoyed. You head on over to the Whitney site, click "nominate," and fill out the form. If the book was published in 2011, it is eligible for this year's award. If it was published before ... sorry, too late, so be mindful of publication dates when nominating. The book can be national or LDS, in any genre - just so long as the author is LDS. The nomination goes in to the committee, and if that book gets five nominations, it's considered an official nominee.

All official nominees are read by the Whitney judges, who select the five most outstanding books in each genre. Then the vote goes out to the Whitney Academy, made up of authors, bookstore owners, and other industry professionals. It really is an amazing process, and if you click here, you can learn more about it, and, in fact, explained a whole lot better than I can here.

I really appreciate the Whitney Award program because it gives LDS authors something amazing to shoot for and validation in a field where validation is sometimes hard to get.

I spoke with three of last year's Whitney winners about what it means to them to have received this award for their work.

Julie Wright, winner of Best Romance for her novel Cross My Heart, said, "Receiving the Whitney Award was a huge validation. There have been lots of times I wondered what I was doing trying to be a writer, and lots of times where quitting felt like a good idea. For that one night—that one shining moment, I knew I was where I was supposed to be, and doing what I was supposed to be doing. As I held that award in my hands, I was immensely glad I hadn’t given up."

Stephanie Black, who won Best Mystery/Suspense for her novel Cold as Ice, said, "Being an author involves ups and downs. Book accepted--yay! Bad review--sigh. Great review--yay! Disappointing sales--sigh. And so on. There will always be potholes in the road. But because of the Whitney Awards, I can treasure the knowledge that a group of industry professionals found my work to be good--even award-worthy. That knowledge is incredibly validating."

Annette Lyon, who won Best General Fiction for her novel Band of Sisters, said: "At (and after) the first Whitney Awards gala, I found myself crying like a little girl. I didn't win that night, although I'd been a finalist, but the tears weren't because I didn't get an award. They were because I caught the vision of what the Whitney program could be, and I felt overwhelmed and honored to have had a small part in the inception of something that would, I was sure, become wonderful and historic.

"Ever since Robison Wells first told me about his idea for an awards program--and each year since--I wanted to receive a Whitney of my own, to have my work be considered good enough to be recognized by my peers as the best in its genre. Those at the gala for the 2010 awards (held May 2011) know that I was a pretty much a blubbering mess when my name was read and I received my very own Whitney Award. It now sits atop my writing desk, and I look at it often--whether I'm questioning my ability and needing a shot in the arm or sometimes even when I'm in a great mood. I glance up and smile. That night will always be a significant memory for me. I'm grateful to all those who have and who continue to work for the program---and maybe I'll manage to snag another gorgeous award some day in the future.

"I love that the Whitneys are doing the two things Robison hoped they would: first, to spread the word and bring to light the best fiction by LDS writers, and second, to raise the bar, encouraging LDS writers to get better and better at their craft. I believe that in the five years the Whitneys have existed, the quality of literature in the LDS market in particular has continued to go up, and that is immensely gratifying."

It was completely awesome to be one of the presenters to give Annette her Whitney. L-R: Danyelle Ferguson, my co-presenter; Annette, holding the beautiful award, and me, with my eyes closed, apparently.

Although still somewhat small, the Whitney Awards have grown every year. Now headed by chairperson Josi S. Kilpack, they are heading into their fifth year, with nominations being accepted now for books published in 2011.

Please take a moment to think about the superlative novels you've read this year that were penned by LDS authors, then head over to the Whitney site to nominate them. You can nominate as many books as you like, all on the same form, even. Each and every nomination is tallied by the Whitney committee. You can do your part to bring LDS authors more into the spotlight and celebrate the good literature being created in this market. You have until midnight on December 31st, 2011, to nominate books written in 2011, so be thinking! Time is running out.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A New Way of Reading

By Trina Boice

Are you a die-hard page turner?  Do you love dog-eared pages and insist on touching actual paper when reading your favorite book or are you a converted fan of the new electronic readers?  Perhaps you use both. Now there's another way to read books...

I'm really excited about a new web site called which launches today!  They're featuring one of my new books, "How to Stay UP in a DOWN Economy: Saving and Earning Money From Home", but that's not the only reason why I'm excited.

Their goal is to change the way we read books and interact with authors online. On their web site they say "Think of us as a television network, but for literary series written in episodic format."   Sixteen books will be featured during this first season.  You can choose between either reading each week's episodes or listening to the audio versions.

Each day, two books are spotlighted, offering new episodes to enjoy.  Several of my author friends have been selected to participate in this first season's launch, so I know you're going to love their work and become addicted! I highly recommend Steven Booth, Tristi Pinkston, Heather Justesen, and Amanda Meuwissen.  I'm excited to get to know the other authors.  My episodes will be featured every Wednesday for 12 weeks. It's the only non-fiction book to be chosen for the series!

The audio chapters are also going to be made available on iTunes each day, and they're currently working on developing formats for the iPad and iPhone, so stay tuned!  You'll be able to interact with the author, write comments, and offer suggestions.  Many of the authors on the site have also been invited to record the audio of each chapter, so you get to meet new writers and hear their actual voices bring their words to life.

As an author, it doesn't matter to me how you read books, only that you do! There is a wonderful world of imagination and knowledge out there to discover!  The Big World Network hopes to create a new way of reading books and creating communities for authors and fans.  Did I mention that all of this is FREE? Check it out!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Remaining objective in a subjective world

When I set out to write my book The Hidden Sun, I did so with a message to convey. Though I have my minor in English, there could be books written on all I don't know about writing a book. However, through a lot of help and effort, I was able to get a good, technically clean version of The Hidden Sun released.

Though I can't speak for others, I dare say my desire to write a book was to share something with others. To that end, writing a book becomes a very personal experience, which in turn, you give to the masses to be judged.

As the reviews for my book came in, it became clear readers are extremely subjective. I recall in the movie The Dead Poet's Society a scene that made quite the impact on me. It is as follows:

Basically, someone with a PhD. invented a way to rate if a poem was good or not. The teacher disagrees and has the students rip out that part of the book.
In some of the reviews I've read not only for my book, but others, I believe there are those who rate books in a similar manner. And to that, I say, I feel sorry for them. In my opinion, the written word isn't to be measured with a ruler. To the opposite point of view, I do believe certain rules should be followed as to not alienate or insult your reader.

So, as authors, how do we remain objective about our work when it is "graded" (for lack of a better term) subjectively?

For me, one of the best exercises I did was to look at the reviews and pull out common threads. I share them with you now:

**On the unique names I used in The Hidden Sun:

"[One] thing that I found distracting was the use of strange names. Although very creative and sometimes beautiful, I found that trying to pronounce most of them drew me out of the story and was, at times, frustrating."

"Some of the names took some getting used to. I worked at different pronunciations until I felt comfortable with them."

"Though there are many uncommon names, a few which are hard to pronounce, I was able to stay on task with the storyline without missing a beat."

"I am a big fan of unique names, so seeing so many of them in this book excited me."

**On how long it took people to "get into" the book.

"It took getting through about the first 50 pages for me to be interested, a bit slow of an opening for my tastes."

"I wasn’t really sure what to expect from The Hidden Sun, but it sucked me in from the very beginning."

"The opening scene really humanized [Eliana] and I immediately began to care, even more so as she develops feelings for Rinan, her personal royal guardian."

"The very first thing I noticed while reading The Hidden Sun was that J. Lloyd Morgan knows how to draw in his readers. It didn't take long for me to become emotionally attached to the characters."

"I fell in love with Eliana and Rinan right away."

**On how people defined the book:

"The Hidden Sun is a delicately crafted fairy tale that both adults and young adults will find charming and intriguing."

"This novel's mix of fantasy and romance drew me in and kept me."

"It sounded kind of like a fantasy since it was set in a medieval-style kingdom, but when the book arrived in the mail I found out it wasn't. Even worse, as I started to read it, it began to look like a romance. Ugh."

"This might seem like a fantasy but it isn't, there isn't any magic nor even any fantastical creatures. It might seem like a romance, but it isn't that either, it really isn't too lovey-dovey despite relationships, marriage and family being the prime arena of conflict."

"This was a political intrigue book with interesting and enjoyable characters."

"Even though it didn’t have any magic or dragons or wizards or whatever, it still had that magical spark to it. It was magical without the magic."

**On people's response to the cover:

"The only thing that bugs me about this book is the cover. They should have a created a cover that would entice YA to read it."

"The cover fits in perfectly to the setting of the novel and what I imagine places in it to look like."

"The cover is pretty typical fare for a fantasy novel involving knights and kingdoms."

"It was a clean, wholesome book with a beautiful cover."

From all this, what do I take away from it? While I continue to learn to improve at my craft, I need to stay true to who I am and why I'm writing. If I'm writing just for the praise of others, I'll never be successful.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Start Your Engines!

Or get out your calendars ... or warm up your typing fingers ... whatever you need to do to get ready for registration for the Storymakers 2012 conference! That's right - registration starts in exactly one month from today, on December 1st, and you will want to be first in line!

The conference will take place May 3rd, 4th, and 5th of 2012 at the Provo Marriott Hotel. The Whitney Awards will take place the evening of the 5th at the same location - you can sign up to attend that as well. Just follow the step-by-step registration form and click the boxes to add the things you'd like to include.

We are so excited about our lineup of special guests for 2012. Our keynote speaker is Kevin J. Anderson, author of over 100 novels with over 200 million books in print in forty languages.

Also joining us are literary agents Holly Root, Molly O'Neill, Kathleen Ortiz, Michelle Wolfson, and Weronika Janczuk - all excited to attend and to meet with you one-on-one for pitch sessions. These slots are going to fill up fast, so I encourage you to register as close to the first day as possible so you don't miss out.

As always, we are planning fun, informative workshops to help you perfect your craft, learn how to market, get the ropes of the business, and most of all, light a fire within you to keep writing no matter what and see your dreams come true.

We're excited for this next year and hope you will be too! In fact, we'll be kicking off our annual "Show Your Love" contest in February for you to help us spread the word about the conference and for you to earn an incredible prize ... which will be announced shortly.

If you'd like to receive information about the conference as it is released, come "like" the conference page on Facebook.

And if you'd like to know more about our special keynote speaker and our amazing literary agents, click here to visit the conference page on the Storymaker website.