Thursday, June 28, 2007

Big Sister Icons

I recently came across a blog that talked about older sisters' influences, and boy did it ever transport me back in time. The author of the post has a sister seven years her senior who molded the younger into a devoted Duran Duran fan.

I know from personal experience just how powerful an influence older sisters can be. In fact, my being a writer is essentially because of her.

Mel is about four years my senior, and while I’ve heard her scoff at the idea that she should be held on a pedestal, for most of my childhood, she not only was on one, but I buffed said pedestal daily.

If asked which flavor of ice cream I wanted, I’d have to think, Hmm. What flavor would Mel want? If she was present, I’d take a peek. Pralines and Caramel? Make that two, please.

She was so grown up, and I wanted to be just like her. She took advantage of this.

Such as when, in third grade, she learned the multiplication table and cursive. Ever the vigilant devotee, groupie, and/or apprentice, I wanted to know what she knew. She enjoyed playing school and recognized an opportunity presenting itself. She took the worksheets her teachers had already corrected, erased her marks, and made me do them.

Keep in mind here: I wasn’t even in kindergarten yet.

Yet Mel was giving me timed tests on the multiplication tables as I curled up with a pencil on the kitchen floor. Then, tongue sticking out of my mouth, I painstakingly tried to write my name in cursive—even though I could barely PRINT it.

But I was learning to be like Mel!

Enjoying our teacher/pupil relationship, Mel moved our "school" to other subjects. She gave me hands-on projects. I remember (and no, I’m not making this up) being assigned the task of creating a shadow box model of the solar system.

Once she pulled a volume of the encyclopedia off the basement bookshelf at random. It fell open to the anatomical drawings of a horse. She promptly informed me that I was to memorize all the muscles.

I did. And I LIKED it.

When I went into my kindergarten pretesting and Mrs. McKay said, "Can you write your name?" I happily complied—in cursive. "Alrighty then," she said, looking a bit puzzled. "Let’s try that again . . . "

We think my horrendous handwriting is due to the fact that I learned cursive before my motor skills were ready for it. To this day, Mel willingly bears the blame. I’m happy to give it to her instead of, oh, taking responsibility for being too lazy to write cleanly.

But I can thank Mel for getting me into writing because when she was in sixth grade, she had these brown notebooks that she’d scribble stories in. And of course, I thought that was an intensely cool thing to do, so I had to do it, too. I wrote stories and had her read them for "feedback." At the time, I didn’t actually want criticism. I wanted my icon to rave about my wit.

But being as we already had a teacher/pupil relationship, she wanted to mold my writing into Pulitzer material. After all, she WAS in sixth grade. When she told me my story about a sniffing cat wasn’t brilliant (it had too much smelling in it; it wasn’t funny), I was devastated. But I was bound to make her proud and try again.

Years later, she took a hardbound blank book and started writing about personal beauty and makeup. (She was a mature teenager of fourteen at this point and knew about womanly stuff.)

Naturally, I trotted in her footsteps. I purchased a hardbound blank book and wrote what I knew about—big kid stuff. She never finished hers, but I did finish mine. It was called Helpful Hints for Kids.

I mentioned recently that a screenplay was my first completed work. Looking back, I realize that’s not quite accurate. This little tip book was really my first one. Interestingly, Ardeth G. Kapp (although she doesn’t remember this) even took it to Deseret Book in the mid-80s and pitched it to their editors. They said no (being as there was zero market for that kind of thing at the time), but they thought it was a great effort from a kid.

So they contacted The Friend magazine, which did a feature about me. By the time it ran (a year or two later), I was actually a second-year Beehive (they got my age wrong), but hey—it was my first sort of published piece ever, and they even paid me to use some of the pages of the book in the piece.

So in some ways, I can thank Mel for setting my feet on the path of writing. What started out as a little more than copy-catting has become a life-long journey and passion for me.

I'm a big sister too, but my little sister Michelle and I are only two years apart. I attempted to play teacher/pupil, and she rebelled since instead of seeing me on a pedestal we were more like peers. We ended up playing bank/post office/grocery store, having eraser wars across our beds, and staying up late at night behind our parents' backs talking on our purple phones that really worked. But that's for another post.

Below is a picture of me with my sisters at the Gala (I think it's the only recent photo I have of the three of us). Mel's on the left. Michelle's on the right.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Snicket's a Nerd Too!

The latest issue of Writer's Digest (August 2007) has an article about various famous writers' offices, complete with descriptions, photographs, and interviews that describe some of their habits.

I discovered a fun thing reading it regarding Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket. I've read all of The Series of Unfortunate Events to my kids, and I've loved all thirteen books. My kids have mostly enjoyed the wacky stories, but part of my personal enjoyment has come from the humor based on the author's (or the "Snicket" persona's) discussion of words.

I'm a word nerd, pure and simple. One of my favorite writing toys in the world is my Oxford English Dictionary on CD, which I got for my birthday a couple of years ago. The thing rocks. I love browsing through it. My father, a retired linguistics professor, has a condensed version in his office. It's not condensed in the sense of less text; it's condensed in the sense of othe the text being nearly microscopic. FOUR pages fit on each regular-sized page so that you can buy the set in just a few volumes and devote a bookSHELF instead of an entire bookCASE to it. (They send you a magnifying glass so you can actually read the words.) Or you can subscribe to it online. Or you can buy it on CD. It's the most powerful dictionary in the world, and as a historical writer, I can't live without it.

Okay, I'll admit it. Even if I weren't writing historical novels, I'd still want it. I love looking up words and playing with it, finding out things like why the word "second" can mean both the second of something and also refer to time (as in sixty seconds in a minute). It was fun to dig up the derivation of the word "steeple" after driving along the road and my preschooler asked why that pointy thing on the church is called a steeple. ("I don't know," I told her. "I'll find out!" And I did.)

That's one reason I love the Snicket books. He uses fun words and discusses silly meanings for them.

Which is why after reading the WD article, I decided that Snicket's real-life identity, Daniel Handler, is a kindred spirit. According to the piece, "To facilitate contemplation, he turns to his 20-volume set of the Oxford English Dictionary, which sits on a nearby shelf. Today, he's got one volume out to look up the plague, a reference for a nonfiction piece he's working on."


Not only that, but he pulls volumes out at random and browses through them. For fun!

A quote from the article: "I don't use it [the OED] to define words I don't know as much as to figure out what I'm really talking about."

Now that's my kind of writing dude.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Peanuts Quiz

While strolling through blogospere today, I stumbled upon a fun quiz that was a great waste of time. Through the hugely scientific questionnaire, I discovered that of all the Peanuts characters, here's the one I'm most like:

Which Peanuts Character are You?

If I've ever pictured myself as a Peanuts character, it's been Snoopy, but mostly because whenever I want to celebrate something (like finishing a book or a deadline) I imagine dancing through the tulips like he does. Maybe it's also because I had a Snoopy stuffed animal as a kid.

Regardless, I suppose Schroeder's an apt character to describe me. He's quiet, shy, and creative. (Check, check, and check.)

From the description, I'm also apparently neurotic. Um, well . . .

He's a musical genius (playing Beethoven on that teeny tiny piano), so if I get to compare myself with that, I'll take it. :)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Grimley Fun

In high school I had a bit of a weird infatuation with the animated television show Ed Grimley.

For those not of the slightly distorted humor persuasion, Ed Grimley began as as character created and acted by Martin Short on Saturday Night Live. I didn't know this when I first discovered the cartoon show.

All I knew was that the Saturday morning show was hystercially funny. Everything from Ed's pet rat Sheldon to his neighbor Miss Malone to the Gastoff brothers (the scientists who interrupt when Ed's about to be smooshed by a piano or tossed out of a wrestling ring and then explain scientifically what is happening to Ed through the force of gravity, etc.), or Ed's favorite television show, which he always finds time to watch, whether he's in prison or in Europe: Count Floyd's Scary Stories, the one live-action portion of the show.

The whole thing is ludicrious and silly and, well, Martin Shortish.

I used to watch it religiously in high school, especially with one friend in particular, who I'll call (because it was her nickname even then) J.J.-Panda. (Hey, Babe!) We'd record the episodes and make sure that any time one of us started dating anyone that we'd show them Ed. If the new guy didn't laugh his head off, he was officially dead meat and deemed not boyfriend material.

Most of the guys figured out pretty quick that it was a test and nervously laughed their way through a couple of episodes, whether they understood the bizarre humor or not.

And then Ed went off the air. J.J.-Panda and I went into mourning.

I had outgrown the boyfriend "Ed Test" by the time I met my husband, but he did know all about my love for Ed. Once for Valentine's Day, several years after we married, he went onto E-bay and found me a pull-string talking Ed Grimley doll and—wonder of wonders—a VHS tape of every single episode of the series. Not the greatest of copies, but a copy nonetheless. I pulled that string to hear Ed say all his catch phrases over and over, sat down with my chocolate (of course I got chocolate too) and watched the whole tape.

Yes, I'm married to a romantic.

For years my kids have wondered what the funky-looking doll is on the bookshelf in my office. (And WHY can't they touch it?)

Not long ago I got my oldest daughter loving Anne, so I decided to try it with a few other things. My second attempt was showing her The Scarlet Pimpernel, another one of my all-time favorites. She has since watched it twice. So far so good.

After Anne and Percy were received well, I thought hmmm, maybe it's time for something totally different. Ed isn't exactly in the same category as the others, but maybe my kids will still like it.

So this week I dug into the old VHS tapes, found Ed, and popped it into the VCR. At first the kids weren't all that impressed. The recording was a bit grainy, after all, and they could tell as I hovered that I was hoping they'd love it. I was laughing and giggling, and they kept looking at me funny every time Ed said, "Now THAT'S a pain that's going to linger, no question!"

But the next day, unbeknownst to me, the KIDS put in the Ed tape and showed it to their friends, saying, "This is really funny. You have to watch it."


Now I feel like I'm rubbing my hands together fiendishly, thinking, what shall I try on them next . . . ?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

How Do You DO It All?

This is one of the most common questions I get from readers and writers alike.

What made me decide to actually answer the question here was when a friend (we'll call her Blondie) happened to let drop the fact that neighbors were asking her how I did it all, trying to get the scoop on me.

See, Blondie has known me most of my life. As in, I attended her fifth birthday party, we went to Girls Camp together, and we have pictures of one another and stories that we could use to black mail the other from high school and college. (Scary, huh? Good thing we really like each other.)

It so happened that about two years ago she moved into a house right around the corner from me, and ever since, her daughter and my youngest daughter are now best buds. So the ladies in our neighborhood went to Blondie asking her to unravel the mystery that is supposedly me. "How does she do it all?"

I laughed and laughed and laughed.

If I were being completely ridiculous, I would smile and make up something about how I've managed to be so organized and sleep only three hours a night.

Here's the truth: I DON'T do it all. Not even close.

My house isn't like Martha Stewart's. It's clean enough for me, but probably not for a lot of people. I enlist my kids to do a lot of the work. I figure it's good for them. I don't remember the last toilet I cleaned. That's their job. Sure, they don't always do it as well as I would, but I cleaned toilets when I was nine. It was good for me at the time.

I don't have a lot of hobbies. I used to scrapbook a lot. I don't anymore. Every so often I'll pull out a few supplies on a Sunday (because that's when I don't write) and slap a few pictures onto some cardstock so my kids will actually have a record that they existed, but their scrapbooks are woefully out of date now.

In the last year, I've gotten my hair done twice. Once was in August, once in March. The LDS Booksellers Convention is in August. The LDStorymakers Writing Conference is in March. You do the math.

As mentioned in my tag blog earlier this week, I rarely get dressed until lunch time. Show up at my door in the morning, and I look like a wreck. Doesn't mean that I haven't been UP before that, likely sorting laundry, cleaning up the kitchen, or whatever. I've been busy. But I'm still in my PJ's (as I am right now. Karen Neuburger light blue ones . . .).

It's not uncommon for me to go to bed with the kitchen looking like a disaster. I'm totally okay with not getting all the dishes put away before bed. I'll be cleaning up breakfast in a few hours anyway. Why not add some of the dinner mess to it too? At night I'm tired. I don't want to do more cleaning. I don't mind cleaning in the morning. Yet a lot of people would freak out to know what my kitchen looks like at midnight.

Once I had a neighbor watch me sweeping. He flipped out. "WHAT happened?!"

I stopped and looked around, thinking a child's hair was on fire. I finally realized that he was looking at the mess on the floor. To be honest, I think the guy is a bit OCD and isn't used to normal messes. (Or maybe I'm delusional and don't realize that my messes are a class beyond "normal.") I looked down at what the broom had collected.

"The kids ate Doritos," I told him. He was the father of small children. Surely he knew that when you give a bag of chips to little kids, they don't stay ON the table.

But I guess most people tend to sweep up immediately, and I often . . . don't.

Not that I'm a slob. I don't think. I do take care of the house, to a point. But I have my priorities. I once had a friend whose mission in life was to have a clean house. She woke up at 6:00 am to keep her home that way. That's pretty much all she did, from scrubbing the kids' toothpaste spit to vacuuming Cheerios from under the couches to cleaning grout with a brush.

Not worth it, says I.

For starters, I want a life. And I think kids need to learn to work, too.

So there's a balance. I let the kids work. I let a few things slip through the cracks. And I find a place for my writing in the mix, because it keeps me sane.

I learned once that if I don't write on a semi-regular basis, that, paradoxically, I actually have less time for everyone. The house is messier, I'm a wreck, the kids are worse behaved, my church work suffers. I struggle to find time for my husband. Go figure.

So I have to find a little time for writing if I'm to keep everything else in place. It really does help. (At least, when I'm not on deadline. Those are the times when everything else goes crazy and we start running out of food and underwear.)

Balance. That's how I do what I do. But I DON'T "do it all," whatever that means.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Whitney Awards

Writing is such a solitary endeavor. You sit at your computer in a little bubble and peck away at your keyboard. Every so often you look up and realize that, oh yeah, there's an entire world out there aside from the one in your head.

And sometimes your family doesn't quite "get" you. They try. They really, really do. But sometimes only another writer can understand. That's where the LDStorymakers came in for me. They began as a small e-mail support group which, at the time, consisted of maybe 20 LDS writers that shared their writing celebrations and angst with one another.

Fast forward several years, and we number nearly sixty. We're no longer just a support group; we're a force to be reckoned with. We sponsor a number of events, including an annual conference, of which I'm the co-chair next year. We're practically a writers' guild.

Our latest innovation is actually the brainchild of novelist Robison Wells, who, at last spring’s writing conference told us his vision for a prestigious writing award, our very own "Oscar" of the LDS community.

Over the last several months, a committee has been put together, doing a ton of backstage work. And now, this week, the award is unveiled. The award is named after early Apostle Orson F. Whitney, who once stated:

"We shall yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. God's ammunition is not exhausted. His highest spirits are held in reserve for the latter times. In God's name and by His help we will build up a literature whose tops will touch the heaven, though its foundation may now be low on the earth."

Amazing thought, that. Now, I know that his vision may take a long time to be realized. We're already more than a century out from the time he said that, after all. But LDS literature has already come a long way. Just in the last two decades it's grown lightyears, and we do have some remarkable books published, even if they're no Miltons.

But in the tradition of Elder Whitney's vision, the LDStorymakers want to honor those writers who are sincerely trying to raise the bar on the quality of fiction they write.

The Whitney Award will be given out annually at the end of the two-day LDStorymaker Writing Conference, honoring the best fiction in six categories published the previous calendar year. We hope that additional categories may be added in the future.

For now, this means that books published in 2007 are eligible for the first set of Whitneys.

(Which means—wow, a certain book about the Salt Lake temple will be eligible once it's out . . . hmmm . . .)

Visit the Whitney Awards site to see all the information and to nominate a book. Anyone can nominate a book and as long as they’re at least 12 years old, and once a title receives at least five nominations, it will be in the running to be on the final ballot. An academy of industry professionals will the voters. (See the web site for how it all works.)

I for one am thrilled at the prospect of such an award. It has the potential to create those "Miltons and Shakespeares" Elder Whitney dreamed about.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Tag! I'm It

My virtual blogger buddy Luisa tagged me for a new, sort of a chain-letter, getting-to-know you Meme. I'm playing along.

I'll be blogging about a very exciting development in the LDS fiction arena soon. Keep your eyes peeled for that!

In the meantime, here we go:

Remove the blog from the top, move all the blogs up one, and add yourself to the bottom.

Twas Brillig
Ennui in the Grocery
The Lyon's Tale

What were you doing ten years ago?
Ten years ago was 1997, which means that S. was just a few weeks old. She didn't have much hair, but what little she did have was bright red, and I always made a little curl out of it and KY-ed a little bow on the side. D. was almost two. We were living in Spanish Fork in our cute little split-level starter house, and I was in the YW presidency. This is about the time that my article stint began.

What were you doing one year ago?
Like Luisa, I figure out time by calculating my kids' ages. A year ago D. was closing in on his 11th b-day, S. had just turned 9, M. was almost 7, and A. was 3-almost-4. At the Journey's End had just gone to press (sound familiar?), and I was doing some Chocolate Show work here and there.

The biggest thing, though, was that Rob and I were getting ready to visit my parents in Israel for a week and a half, where my dad was in charge of the BYU Jerusalem Center and Mom headed up the Humanitarian work for the Church. Dad was also the District president of Israel. BYU students weren't back yet, though. Rob and I just don't travel. The most we have done is visit his grandparents in Idaho and maybe go up to Yellowstone. Last fall we made the trek (for the first time) to Disneyland. (Yeah, world travelers.) So this was a very big deal.

It was the coolest trip of my life. The hardest part was being away from my kids that long, especially my youngest. But it was the trip of a lifetime. All I can say is WOW. I'll never see the scriptures the same again. There was one interesting wrinkle. Mom and Dad had their itinerary and tickets and were supposed to return home in November after about a year and a half of being in the Holy Land.

While we were up in Galilee, Dad got a cell phone call, and excused himself to take it in the other room. We didn't find out until about a month after we got home what that phone call was (Dad apparently has a serious poker face; we had no clue). The speaker on the other end was one President Hinckley calling my parents to be the first temple president and matron over the Helsinki, Finland temple. They wouldn't be returning home in November after all. Instead, they jetted home for 6 weeks in September to get their affairs in order, flew to Finland, and are now there for 3 YEARS. But I digress. Here's a photo of Rob and me on the Dome of the Rock.

(I loved Rob's beard! Too bad he had to shave it off as soon as we got home to start his new programming job, which has a much stricter dress code . . .)

Five snacks you enjoy:
1. Sonic's strawberry slush
2. Training Table's cheese fries
3. Almonds and raisins mixed up together
4. Chips and salsa (but not Pace salsa; ick)
5. Apples or grapes or strawberries or, heck, any fresh fruit

Five songs you know all the lyrics to:
1. "Come What May" (Air Supply)
2. "Thank You For the Music" (ABBA)
3. "Heart to Heart" (John Denver)
4. "Lift Me Up" (VoiceMale)
5. "White Christmas" (Bing Crosby)

Things you would do if you were a millionaire:
1. Pay off that stupid mortgage
2. Travel
3. Save up for the kids' college, missions, weddings
4. Landscape the house so it's like the one in my dreams
5. Donate to literacy causes

Five bad habits:
1. I rarely get out of my PJ's until lunch time.
2. I consider chocolate the fifth food group. (Note how it's not listed as a SNACK.)
3. E-mail and blog-reading addiction.
4. Thanks to TiVo, I watch every episode of Dr. Phil and Oprah. I do this while I sort laundry and clean the kitchen, so I pretend I'm not wasting time.
5. I am such a freak about grammar and punctuation that I cannot read a book without flinching at the wrong use of lay/lie or snarling at a comma splice.

Five things you like to do:
(although I rarely get to do enough of any of these)
1. Sleep
2. Knit
3. Take walks
4. Camp in the high Uintahs
5. Take long, lingering baths

Things you will never wear again:
1. The 4-inch silver Latin ballroom dance shoes I met my husband in. (Took him weeks to stop looking around for me, since he knew me for two months as four inches taller than I really am as we cha-cha-ed as partners all summer.)
2. The blonde wig I wore as Rapunzel in the community production of Into the Woods my freshman year of college.
3. The royal blue maternity bathing suit I bravely sported for Mommy-and-me swimming lessons when D. was 3 1/2 and I was 8 months pregnant with M. He better appreciate the humiliation I went through for him.
4. Blue mascara. So I went through brief but strange phase my sophomore year of high school. All I can plead is the temporary insanity of the era, along with other things that matched the time period, like pegged jeans, sky-high bangs, and denim jackets.
5. My leather jacket. Sadly, it has gone the way of all the earth, so I can't wear it again. But I loved that thing, and I still would wear it if I had it. I had lots of great memories attached to it, most of which were connected with dating my husband.

Five favorite toys:
1. Alphasmart Neo. I CANNOT live without it. I highly recommend any writer invest in one. It's my #1 writing tool for drafting. Not so good with revising, but it's a massive time saver. So portable. Nearly indestructive. Battery lasts forever. I can write whenver, wherever. I couldn't have gotten my last two books written without it.
2. Dawn/Dusk simulator. Especially in the winter, it keeps me sane. Helps me get to sleep and helps me wake up in the morning. Since I'm not a morning person and I have children to get to school, this a good thing. Probably more of a tool than a toy, but hey.
3. An antique typewriter my sister bought me for my birthday last year. It's so rockin cool that I couldn't resist including it in my latest author photo on my website splashscreen.
4. Paper cutter. It's jumbo huge and a gift from my hubby. May sound weird, but it has served me well for many projects over the years. Love it.
5. The new porch swing. My hubby's latest gift to me. I enjoy sitting out there and relaxing, reading, and yes, putting my Neo on my lap and writing. Ahhhh!

Where will I be in ten years?
Scary, scary thought. Let's see . . . in 2017, D. will be closing in on his 22nd birthday, which means he'll be OFF his mission. YOWZA! He'll probably be close finishing up college. He may be about to meet a pretty girl (I met Rob when he was 22 . . .) and thinking marriage.

S. would be 20, in college. She might be thinking about a mission. Or not. I got married at 20. (FREAKY!) M. would have just graduated from high school. And A. will be 14, ready for high school.

I imagine my husband and I will still be in this house. Since he's no longer with the lay-off king of companies and is now programming software for the family history department of the Church, I think there's a good chance he'll still have the same job in ten years. I hope I'll still be publishing and have several more books under my belt.

Okay, this is all getting a little unnerving to think that far ahead and to imagine my little kiddies all grown up . . .

Five people to tag:
Michele Paige Holmes
Josi Kilpack
Julie Wright
Heather Moore
Tristi Pinkston

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Friend's Success So Sweet

There's almost nothing as exciting as holding your first book in your hands for the first time.

So it was a little weird to be feeling as giddy and excited as I was last Saturday when I held Counting Stars by Michele Paige Holmes in my hands. I mean, it wasn't my book.

And yet, in some ways, I felt a tiny bit of ownership in it, sort of like a midwife might feel. No, that's not right, either. That implies that I had more to do with the book than I did. Cheerleader, maybe? That's not enough. I watched this baby grow, develop, take its first steps. I feel like its mother, but I'm not. Great aunt, maybe?
I tend to wax long when I back-up too far in my stories, but this one goes back a long ways. Bear with me. :)

I met Shauna Andreason (hi, lady!) in a social dance class at BYU back in, well, the Jurassic Era, maybe. I had no idea at the time that our husbands had served their missions together. I also didn't know that we'd end up living next door to each other as newly weds. We're still awesome buds and close friends.

Fast forward several years: Shauna meets another great friend in her new Provo ward, Michele Holmes, an aspiring writer. At the time, I'm also an aspiring writer. I joined a critique group a few months prior, and thanks to Shauna, Michele and I meet at a League of Utah Writers meeting. Eventually, Michele joins our critique group.

We both have a very bumpy ride as we learn (the HARD way) that we aren't that great of writers (okay, to be honest, I had more to learn than she did), we had A LOT to learn about the craft, about how to put a book and characters and a story together. There are times when I've left our meetings frustrated because she's so dang talented and I feel like a hack. (I've even blogged about it, and I'm hereby revealing who MH is.) Our group has morphed and changed over the years. Seven and a half years later, though, we're still plugging along. What started out as mostly wannabes has turned into a group of polished, published writers. Every one of us has sold our work. Heather and I were unknowns when we joined, but we've managed to make pretty darn good names for ourselves in this market, as have Jeff and James. Lynda has sold several stories to the Friend. Lu Ann has regular newspaper columns and has sold articles and other pieces as well, and so on.

Michele has consistently wowed me with her talent. She's spent years pursuing national agents and getting fabulous feedback but rejections nonetheless, largely because she doesn't write the in the standard formula. (She's realizing that to GET INTO the national realm, you often have to write that way, and then you can break it, no matter how many agents say they're really looking for something different. Hah. No they're not.)

Jeff, Heather, and I (the three of us from the group who publish with Covenant) have spent the last year wooing Michele to the "dark" side (in other words, trying to get her to submit to the LDS market). She finally did. We knew that her talent is so dang amazing that she'd be a shoo-in.

We were right; Covenant snatched her newest book up in no time flat.

Now it's in stores. It's not your typical formula romance. But it IS a romance. A killer of a romance. It's poignant. It's drop-dead hysterically funny. It will make you cry. It has twists you won't see coming (because yeah, it's NOT that formula!). It's different than anything you've ever read in the LDS market. And it's GOOD. (This coming from someone who is notoriously picky in her reading material.) It pushes the envelope just a bit. It's refreshing. It's fun.

And by golly, I'm so dang excited to see Michele's face on the bio page and her name on the cover.

I've been working like crazy to get my book to press lately, but I've still managed to sneak in a few chapters of her book here and there. Even though I've already READ the thing in critique group (a couple of times) and know exactly what's coming, I still laugh. I still cry. I still shake my head and think, wow, Michele. You are one talented writer.

Congratulations, woman!

Monday, June 11, 2007

LMM 2nd Generation

It happened! I did it!

Or something.

At our first summer vacation trip to the library, Sammy, my oldest daughter, informed me that one of her friends at school was reading the simplified version of Anne of Green Gables, and she wanted to try it out.

My first reaction was mixed. Simplified? Ick. That's like saying you wanted to eat some dark chocolate, but on second thought, make it white.

On the other hand, Sammy knows I have always loved Anne and her creator. To have her mention the idea of checking out such a book was likely an attempt to win favor with Mom (yeah, it worked). I couldn't deny that it was tantalizing to think that my almost fifth grader (FREAK! My SECOND child is really that old?) might actually find a love of Anne and L. M. Montgomery.

We searched the library shelves and did indeed find a simplified version of Anne and checked it out. Sammy spent the next couple of days glued to it. She'd come in and show off how far she was into it. Then I'd gush to her about the story, she'd tell me her favorite parts, and I'd ask if she liked it when such-and-such happened (since, you know, I have the thing nearly memorized).

She'd look at me a bit confused. "That never happened." And then she'd realize that her simplified version had cut out that part. And that part. And that part, too. Annoyed, she decided that after reading the easy version, she'd need to read the REAL one.

To ease her way into it, though (because the "real" one is significantly longer, with tiny text compared to the easy version), I showed her the movie. She's watched the whole, rather lengthy thing several times on her own, curled on the couch with her little sister. And I walk by, laughing at certain spots. We talk about the movie and the book and our favorite parts.

She's read about five chapters of the real book now. It's harder for her to get through, no doubt. She's asked if maybe I'd use it for our bedtime reading instead of her reading it herself.

But when she was making a list of her favorite books the other day, the first one on her list was Anne of Green Gables.

Ever since she was born, I've been waiting for the day when I could lend her my LMM books, then cross my fingers and hope she could find a little joy in them like I do. The day has finally come.

Woohoo! I've created a Maud fan!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Month of Beauty

I've spent the last little while hopping over to one of my dear friend's blogs almost every day. She's spending four weeks focusing on the beauty in her life and letting those of us in cyberspace share it with her.

It's been a wonderful reminder to look at the beauty around me too. It's all too easy to forget to notice the small wonders in your life when you end up pulling an all-nighter like you did in college to meet yet another editorial deadline--but you no longer have that college brain or that college body that lets you pull out of such a marathon.

So I thought I'd point any blog readers I have toward my friend Emmelyn's blog so they can take a mini vacation during the day with her month of beauty right along with me.

It's been a good reminder to relish the hugs and kisses from my children, to notice the sweet things my husband does for me each day that could otherwise go unnoticed, and even to simply take a minute and look around and think, "You know, my life is pretty darn good."

Thanks for the reminder, Em!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Article Writer's Hat

In spite of the fact that my first foray into writing was a never-completed novel called Mean Marvin the Mouse, inspired by another fictional mouse while I was in second grade, my first completed work was a screenplay I co-wrote with a close friend (Hey, Sam!) based on one of my favorite books of all time.

And in spite of the fact that fiction is my first love, the first several items I ever published were articles. As I wrote novels, submitted them, and had them summarily rejected, I also tinkered with articles on the side. This is thanks to the fact that I attended writing conferences and subscribed to Writers Digest and read the magazine cover to cover. I soaked up every word and wanted to know everything there was to know about writing. Not just fiction, not just novels. But WRITING.

I bought writing books and read them. Yes, they included plotting, characterization, and structure, but they also included research, hooks, pitching articles, queries, and freelancing. Every so often, I'd submit a query to a magazine. At one point, an editor I had queried a few times called me back and asked for more on a particular topic.

Long story short, I didn't get that job (apparently it was between me and another writer), but she remembered me and a couple of months later gave me a job. It was a brand new special project for her magazine, a spin-off newsletter. I had no clue what I was doing, but by golly, I was going to do my best. I must have impressed her, because she turned around and assigned me more articles. And more. And more.

Each time, the check increased with each piece, which was awfully nice!

At the same time, a paper started up locally. It's now defunct, but it was a great learning experience for me. The new religion editor had a great nose for finding stories, but didn't feel comfortable writing them up. She happened to know me personally and remembered that I was a wannabe writer. In short order, she started dumping stories on me. Pretty soon it was "Hey, next week is the Jewish holiday of Purim. Research it and write it up," or, "Interview this Catholic priest. He's constructing a new building in Orem, and he's been in the area for like, forever." I also did book reviews. Several times I ended up on the front page, like the article that commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Miracle of the Gulls.

I eventually dropped the paper, because while it gave me lots of experience and published clips, they only paid $25 an article (and the magazine was paying me significantly more than that).

The hey-day lasted about a year, peaking when I did a five-article job in one-fell swoop that more than paid for Christmas that year. Following that, the editor got a major promotion, and the gal who replaced her had her own freelancers she worked with, so I never heard from them again.

Shortly after that, I started focusing harder on my fiction, and my article-writing stint faded into the background as my novels (woohoo!) started coming to light.

It's really only been in the last year that I've dusted off the freelance article hat and put it back on again. I've sold close to ten articles in the last year to various magazines, including ByLine (a writing magazine), LDS Living, The Friend, Desert Saints, and Knitty. A handful of those articles are online, and you can access the bottom of this page of my website to read them. Some of the ones you can't see online I'll add to my website later (which I haven't done yet, alas).

As for how to query magazines, the format is generally up to the individual magazine. Some require a formal snail mail letter, while others allow you to send an e-mail query. But overall, the trick is finding what the magazine wants. Read the magazine and know its style, voice and readership. A sports magazine isn't going to want an article on cooking, obviously. And a cooking magazine that just ran an article on 10 top chili recipes isn't going to want another one on chili. Then follow the magazine's writer guidelines (often posted online) for queries.

I recently wrote about some of my tricks to getting article ideas on my Precision Editing Group blog here (I'm the Wednesday contributor). If you have specific questions about article writing, let me know, and I can blog about them there!

Monday, June 04, 2007

I Hate Faulkner

So that's a slight overstatement. I don't completely hate Faulkner. He has some works I like, and I do appreciate his skill and, yes, even his brilliance (hard not to as an English major, when you've read so much of his work). My personal favorite is "A Rose for Emily," one of the best short stories in existence.

But there are moments when I've had to wonder what the heck he was thinking and wish I could slap him upside the head.

Such is the case with The Sound and the Fury. With apologies to Oprah and everyone else who puts that book on one of their top five, such as a good chunk of literary scholars and university people (including English majors—so I hope my own don't disown me), the book sucks.

Here is my never-quiet opinion as to why.

I know some people think Faulkner was downright brilliant with it, as if he was seeing how far out on a limb a writer could go before the branch itself broke off.

But explain to me how it is brilliance to write a book where it's just a literary exercise, where the reader gets no joy in it? That's like saying a ballet is brilliance where the audience sits around and sees the ballerina do nothing but exercises like amazingly deep plies and grand jetes across the stage for an hour. The audience gets bored to tears.

Oh, wow. She's a great dancer. She's got an amazing turnout. But where's the ballet?

The Sound and the Fury, from what I've gathered, wasn't particularly popular in its day. It's much more popular now, when literary critics and scholars like to pick it up and tear it into pieces and say, "Wow! Look what a genius Faulkner was."

Pllllh, says I.

I personally think Faulkner was showing off rather than telling a story in the most powerful way possible, which is plain old bad writing. A writer's first responsiblity is to his reader: How can I tell this most effectively, in the way that will most impact my audience?

I want my reader to feel, to laugh, to cry, to love, to feel angry. Not to wonder what the heck is going on and be constantly pulled from the page, remembering that the writer in the one pulling the strings and that it's really a book, not another world.

Faulkner never once lets you forget that this is a B-O-O-K.

Plus, he was intentionally trying to confuse the crap out of the reader. There was no earthly reason he needed to name that many characters the same name, let alone characters of different genders. There was no reason he needed to jump around back and forth in time so much—especially without alerting the reader of the time transitions so the reader doesn't know when or where he is, and so on. He didn't need to have pages and pages of no punctuation or capital letters. (Call it a stream of consciousness style if you want. I call it annoying.)

Stupid, stupid book. I'm glad I've read it so I can say I read it. After I did, I looked up some commentaries to make sure I did, in fact, understand it—and was rather pleased that, yes, I did grasp what he was trying to do and he didn't pull the wool over my eyes, hallelujah.

(Although as I was reading it a couple of years ago, my son asked what it was about, and I told him I wasn't entirely sure, that it was kind of confusing. And he responded with, "Well, what do you THINK it's about?")

The author part of my brain kept thinking how much more effective some of these scenes could have been if he had just written them straight out normally—because Faulkner, when he wanted to be, really was a great writer.

But I think he got so in love with his own genius and skill that he sometimes also got caught up in doing acrobatics and forgot the power of telling the story and the responsibility he has to his READER.

End of rant. :)

Next time, I'll finally get around to answering a question posed by an anonymous commenter about how I got into article writing.

Until then, happy summer vacation!

Also, I just have to mention that my upcoming book, Spires of Stone, due out in September, is going to press in a few days. YES!


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