Wednesday, October 31, 2007

On My Own . . . or on YouTube

In honor of the October writing assignment over at Cre8buzz.com, here is my contribution.

It’s not a witty essay or a piece of fiction—just something silly that the prompt brought to mind. (That’s what a prompt does, right? Bring things to mind?) Had I managed to have more than three seconds to think straight over the last two weeks, I might have written something really inspiring and literary.

Or . . . maybe not.

* * *


As I’ve mentioned before, I went to high school with a bunch of thespians. These are people who took acting and made it a lifestyle. Their favorite party games were acting games. (Ever played "In the Manner of the Adverb"?) Their favorite pastimes were viewing or participating in plays—or listening to Broadway soundtracks.

With their insane music ability, it was a snap to stand around a piano while one (take your pick; it could be any one of half a dozen of them) sight read music and the rest sang along in perfect harmony. (Except me. "Give Annette the melody" was their sympathetic mantra.) Their competitions weren’t of the football variety, but rather Region Drama.

Being part of this group was particularly interesting since I lived in a very tight shell of shyness. These people exploded that shell off my person—which was a good thing in many ways, if uncomfortable at times. It stretched me.

It was because of them that I auditioned for and performed in three community youth theater productions. It was because of them I started taking voice lessons and tried out for the school choir. It was because of them I found my interest in ballroom dance (which in turn led to meeting my husband).

It was also because of them that I ended up playing the temptress/blackmailer Desaray Cahoon one wintry night.

Four of the gang were on a double date and decided to make a soap opera video. They spent much of the evening writing out the script. Then they called the rest of our group over to film the thing. (Essentially crashing their date, but hey—we were all buds, and it was fun.)

The story began with one of the love interests getting smacked on the head by a rival, sending her into a coma. I’m fuzzy on the rest of the story—it made more sense on paper than it did on tape—but there was also a mute girl who is cured by the pure love of her teacher, including a delightful montage between them after they discover their love. They frolicked the snow in Em’s backyard.

And then there was the blackmailing scheme of which Desaray (moi) was a part.

But the scene that had us all in stitches was when Em—the one who loved the mute girl's teacher (who was in love with the mute instead of her . . . the whole thing was dreadfully soapy)—sang a tearful rendition of “On My Own” from Les Miserables.

To fully appreciate this, you have to understand Em. She’s a consummate actress. In high school she played about every leading role possible. She won the award as the best actor of her graduating class. She went on to get a BA and an MA in theater. So yeah, the girl could (and can) act.

She can be very intense in her performances, especially her dramatic ones. Which is what made her hysterical to watch when she would take humorous material and turn it serious.

To this day, I crack up whenever I think of her dramatic interpretation of the song, “Oklahoma.” I can still hear the emotion and intensity in her voice when she’d declare, “And the waving wheat can sure smell sweet.” She had us hyperventilating.

Take that passion, add a cup of melodrama, and throw “On My Own” at her.

During the taping, one of the pianists in the group (did I mention these friends were also ridiculously talented musically?) played the music while she sang the song with the passion no Eponine has ever expressed.

I don’t know how she kept a straight face; the rest of us were rolling on the floor trying not to laugh out loud and ruin the shot.

Afterward, we had a scream watching the soap opera—then we all declared it should be burned, because someone really could blackmail us with such embarrassing stuff.

To my knowledge, it never was destroyed. In fact, I’ve met people (friends of friends) who say they’ve seen it. Um . . . yikes?

So I’m a bit scared that some day it’ll make its way onto YouTube or something.

Fast forward many years: When I wrote the book that became Lost Without You, I dropped in an inside joke that only those friends would catch. Some of them reportedly snorted out loud when they came to it.

It was when the voice teacher in the book is first introduced.

Her name is Desaray Cahoon.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Big 1-0-0

I feel like I've reached a milestone with my 100th blog post! In keeping with tradition, below is a list with 100 things about me.

1. With my children, I duplicated the family I grew up in: boy, girl, girl, girl.

2. I’m the middle girl.

3. My children don’t at all resemble my siblings.

4. Especially my son, a very mild child who hasn’t given any scars to his little sisters.

5. But my brother gave me a scar when he was being nice, not during the times he held me over the bannister, locked me in a closet, or threatened to kill me.

6. Thanks in part to being a secretary in college, I can type really fast, which is one reason I cannot write books long hand.

7. The other reason is that my handwriting is atrocious. I blame my older sister for that.

8. I have six screws in my jaw from a surgery when I was 16. Not the easiest way to fix your bite . . .

9. Recovery included having my jaw wired shut and being on a liquid diet. (Ensure, anyone?)

10. With my swollen face, I look like a demented alien in all my sister’s wedding photos, which was all of four weeks post-op.

11. But I never grew any wisdom teeth to remove.

12. I love hot cocoa, the Finnish Fazer blue milk chocolate bar, and Peter’s Burgundy. Among other chocolates.

13. In high school I broke out of my shell and auditioned for community theater.

14. As a result, I performed in Joseph (I swear, the first production of it I was ever aware of; following ours, they mushroomed everywhere and people got sick of it).

15. I also performed in Fiddler on the Roof and Into the Woods, back when I could actually hit a high b-flat without causing physical pain in listeners, which is why I got the role of Rapunzel, who hits a high b-flat almost every time she opens her mouth.

16. I refer to both of those plays in my first book, Lost Without You.

17. One of my favorite things in the world is hiking in the High Uintahs.

18. But I haven’t done that for over a decade.

19. I wanted to be a writer at the tender age of 8.

20. But I got serious about the whole thing with my first submission Labor Day weekend 1994.

21. That first submission was rejected. As were many others.

22. For years, my kids thought Mom just typed a lot.

23. When I published my first article, I enjoyed showing my byline to them. That’s when they finally “got” what I did at the keyboard.

24. I like ice cream flavors that include nuts, especially almonds and pecans. And caramel. And chocolate.

25. My eyebrow hair grows long and then curls upward. I have to trim my eyebrows with scissors to avoid looking like Gandalf.

26. I lived in Finland from the age of 10 to 13.

27. I attended the Finnish public school system and eventually learned the language quite well, although it’s very rusty now.

28. In my class a scrawny little kid named Mika led a gang of boys (who were neither little nor scrawny), and together they tried to beat up the American girl at recess.

29. His twin sister Mia and her friends made a human shield to protect me, even though they hardly knew me. She was bigger and taller than her twin brother.

30. Mia became one of my best friends from Finland.

31. Katri became the other. We’re still in touch. (Terve, lady!)

32. I had a paper route with them and Marjo, where we delivered free papers and ads to a string of apartment buildings.

33. I got pretty good at knowing how many papers belonged in each stairwell, racing up several flights of stairs and then shoving the papers into the mail slots on my way down.

34. I love Finnish summers, but hate Finnish winters, except for Christmas, which I enjoy over there almost more than I do here with all their parties, songs, and great FOOD, like riisi purro. Mmm, Mm.

35. I don’t have one favorite color, but I tend to gravitate toward deep greens and reds.

36. I took horseback riding lessons in Finland, European-style, complete with the little black helmet and the switch.

37. I was and am still terrified of horses.

38. Which makes writing historical fiction interesting, since you can’t get away from horses, which pulled all a major modes of transportation and were heavily involved with temple construction and farm work.

39. I still have the helmet and the switch.

40. My claim to fame is that I used to take jazz dance classes from Derryl Yeager, who once performed quite a bit on Broadway. He also played a certain villainous person in a movie LDS people are familiar with, as well as one of the dancers in one of my cult favorites, Girls Just Want to Have Fun. (He’s the one who’s told, “My, you are big.”)

41. I performed at a dance recital when Derryl danced with our entire class (“I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line. He played the auditioner/instructor). I was just behind him and to the right. Yeah, no pressure. I was so nervous I fell out of my double pirouette.

42. But I loved, loved, loved performing “One,” also from A Chorus Line, that same night. It freaking rocked. Even if my black nylons were twisted.

43. I can no longer do any kind of pirouette, split, or leap. Don’t ask.

44. I met my husband on a BYU summer ballroom team.

45. We were cha cha partners, and by the time he asked me out at the end of the summer, we were great friends.

46. Our height difference took some getting used to, because we had spent three months together with me looking four inches taller than I really was because of the Latin heels.

47. I’ve kept those silver Latin shoes all these years.

48. I still feel a little sheepish that I don’t remember the first time I met him. But I do remember my first impression: That he was a great dancer who could really lead, and I worked well with him.

49. We’re still working well together after 13 ½ years of marriage.

50. Knitting is a favorite way of mine to relax and unwind.

51. I took piano lessons for years but began with a pathetic teacher who messed me up (Musical theory? What’s that?), so to this day I can’t play well.

52. I look a lot like my older sister. In fact, our baby pictures are hard to distinguish.

53. She wears her hair short, so I figure I’d probably look fine with a short ‘do, but I’ve never cut my hair shorter than a bob because I’m too scared. Also because I’m too lazy to commit to getting a haircut every four weeks to maintain a short length and having to style it every day.

54. I stop traffic if I take all three of my adorably cute redheaded daughters out at the same time.

55. My parents consist of a Cache Valley farm boy and a metropolitan Helsinki woman. As a result, during their newlywed years, friends called them “Green Acres.”

56. I drive a green 1997 Dodge Grand Caravan Sport.

57. I get cranky if I don’t get enough sleep. I usually get close to 8 hours, but unfortunately, 8 hours isn’t enough for me.

58. I have a dental implant in place of one tooth, because I never grew an adult one in that spot. I managed to hang onto the baby molar for over thirty years, but when it finally bit the dust, the implant was necessary.

59. I prefer reading books from the Victorian Era and pretty much ignored 20th century literature as much as I could and still graduate as an English major.

60. Which may be why I also love writing about the 1800s.

61. I tend to be a bit of an L. M. Montgomery freak.

62. In 9th grade I even started a writing/book club and newspaper that revolved around her.

63. I had melodramatic friends in high school. I mean that both in the typical high school soap opera sense and in the literal theatrical sense. (Hi, Em, Sam, Thora, and all you other thespians!)

64. A group of us called ourselves “The Babes,”which quite frankly, was wishful thinking.

65. Except in one case, and they all know who I mean. We all hated it whenever guys would hit on her (we’ll call her the Thunder Goddess, for reasons known amongst ourselves) and completely ignore the rest of us. I mean, we were a HERD of available young women, for Pete’s sake. But she was always singled out. (Okay, fine. She was hot, and the rest of us, uh, weren’t.)

66. I am a cat person and grew up with many felines (among them Muffin, Jumper, Jumper II, Herman, Marvin, Spears, George, and Sable), but I don’t own one right now.

67. I seriously despise dogs. Okay, I also have a dog phobia of sorts, even though I grew up with two of them: a gorgeous and LARGE Golden Retriever who didn’t know his own strength and a fat, grouchy poodle named Taco who snapped at everyone except my older sister if they dared to so much as touch him.

68. I’m the tallest of my sisters by a smidge.

69. But none of us three sisters is taller than Mom.

70. My mother taught me how to sew, but I’ll never be as good at it as she is.

71. Sewing for me is now an annual event when I make my daughters Easter dresses.

72. All of the Babes thought for sure I’d go on a mission. So did I. In reality, all but two of us did, and I was one of those two. (No regrets—look what I got instead!)

73. But in some ways I had a mission experience by being the daughter of a mission president for those three years in Finland. I know all about the commitment pattern and zone conferences, and I know enough to blackmail several missionaries if I so choose. (Funny how they’ll spill stuff to a kid . . .)

74. I love food.

75. My metabolism doesn’t.

76. I have long, blonde eyelashes, so I look very different with and without mascara. (No eyes . . . EYES!)

77. I hate to sweep.

78. But I love a freshly-swept floor.

79. I had a writing course as an English major that was almost enough to make me start hating Shakespeare. We had to write 8 papers of increasing length, all about King Lear, but using different critical theories (Freudian, Feminist, New Historical, Rhetorical, Deconstructionist . . .). I wanted to strangle the teacher by midterm.

80. Fortunately, I managed to escape the class with few scars, and I still love Shakespeare, but you’d have to pay me large sums to read or see King Lear.

81. Because my feet resemble the arctic tundra, I sleep with socks on. Even in July.

82. I finished my bachelor’s degree work in June of 1995, a month and a half before my first child was due and two months before graduation ceremonies in August.

83. I actually graduated when he was two weeks old.

84. Cum laude.

85. I don’t mind doing laundry.

86. I love to take baths in the dark with a candle.

87. I used to budget my little sister’s allowance and then charge a quarter for an “accountant’s fee.”

88. I miss my parents, who are gone for a 3-year church calling. (One year down, two to go.)

89. Sometimes I mentally type what I think and signs that I see.

90. I get depressed easily.

91. When I’m depressed, I tend to overindulge in chocolate. (See #75.)

92. I’m cripplingl shy, which is something I have to battle when speaking to crowds, doing book signings, and simply getting to know my neighbors.

93. I have mild to moderate claustrophobia, which made walking through Hezekiah’s tunnel . . . interesting a year ago. Breathe . . . breathe . . . (Also see #5. Cause or effect on that one? Hmmm.)

94. I didn’t inherit Dad’s green thumb. I have a hard time keeping plants (including gardens) alive, but I grew up with the most amazing garden harvest every summer from Dad’s work.

95. I make a mean brownie. And a mean chocolate chip cookie.

96. According to my brothers-in-law, my homemade rolls are better than their mom’s—and I use her recipe.

97. But I wouldn’t attempt the rolls without my trusty Kitchen Aide.

98. Which I desperately missed during the miserable year we spent in a cramped apartment while waiting for our current house to be built and most of our stuff was in storage because building the thing was supposed to take 4 months instead of the year it actually took.

99. I love my house, so I guess that year was worth it.

100. I especially love the fact that I have my own writing office here!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Executive Decisions

I feel a little sneaky; a moment ago I wrote, "Chapter 6" at the top of a page.

Lest you think that makes no sense, I'll explain. Since I often write out of order, jumping ahead to scenes, coming back to flesh things out and bridge gaps--and since my first attempts at beginnings are rarely set in stone--I generally begin my chapters with plain old, "Chapter" until I know for sure that there's nothing missing before that one and it's clear where it belongs and what number it would be.

At least two months ago, I decided that chapters 1-5 were solidly in place and ready for their designations. In went "Chapter 1," "Chapter 2," and on through "Chapter 5." But looking at the next section, I wasn't sure.

I hesitated, going back regularly to look at it and thinking that I really should return to another character's storyline after Chapter 5 before continuing with Tabitha's situation, which was the next one written. But I didn't yet know if there was something significant happening at that point in his story to warrant a new chapter.

So, in typical skipping fashion, I'd leave it and go on my merry way to write something else. Every couple of weeks, though, I've returned to that spot and stared at it.

IS there something missing there? Or should I just continue from what is now Chapter 5 to the next scene with the same character?

Now I'm in the final crunch. I'm rereading the whole thing from page one, filling out and fixing things as I go (which, by the way, makes the word count CREEP up slowly and sometimes even reverse . . . but I AM making progress, even if the counter over there doesn't reflect it).

This morning when I came to the end of Chapter 5 and had the single word, "Chapter" staring me in the face, I remembered: Oh, yeah. I was supposed to figure out if a new scene belonged here.

What did I do? I left the computer and had lunch. I figured that maybe while I sipped some soup I'd be able to figure out what belonged there.

Lunch ended, and I had no brilliant flashes of insight. I'm taking that to mean that no, nothing belongs there, at least right now. If I tried adding something without knowing why it's there and how it plays directly to the main conflict, it'll probably be fluff.

I hate fluff.

So I sat down, planted my hands on the keyboard, and added a "6" after the word, "Chapter."

I feel so liberated. And a little like I got away with something, as if there's part of the story I decided to play hookie on.

As if it's not my story.

Writers are so weird.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Big Whitney News

We have a new development on the Whitney Awards front: Winners will receive cash prizes in addition to the actual award and all the acclaim that goes with it.

The award is becoming an exciting new entity in the market, and I am thrilled to have a seat on the sidelines to watch it happen.

One major purpose of the Whitney Awards program is to raise the quality of the literature we publish. That can only happen if the best of the best are on the ballot, and that can only happen if readers nominate books so they'll have a shot at being a finalist.

Once again I'm encouraging readers to nominate their favorite books published by LDS authors during 2007. Nominating is easy at the Whitney Awards website.

The following was announced just two days ago by the Whitney Committee:


PROVO, UT-OCTOBER 23, 2007

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WHITNEY AWARDS COMMITTEE ANNOUNCES LARGE CASH AWARDS

The Whitney Awards Committee announced today that they will be offering seven large cash awards to be presented at the upcoming Whitney Awards banquet in March 2008. These cash prizes are due to the generosity of the Whitney Awards' marquis sponsor, ExclusivelyLDS.com.

Founded earlier this year, the Whitney Awards program is a non-profit organization dedicated to rewarding excellence among LDS authors. With the new sponsorship of ExclusivelyLDS.com, winning authors will receive up to $1000 along with their trophy.

The Whitneys offer a total of seven awards. The five genre awards (Best Romance/Women's Fiction, Best Mystery/Suspense, Best YA/Children's, Best Speculative Fiction, Best Historical) will each be accompanied by a $500 cash prize. The two overall winners, Best Novel by a New Author and Best Novel of the Year, will each receive $1000.

"We're very excited about the sponsorship with ExclusivelyLDS.com," Robison Wells, president of the Whitney Awards Committee, explains. "There is enormous talent among LDS authors, and every year seems to produce better and better novels. This is an exciting time to be part of the LDS fiction industry. Our hope is that these awards will raise awareness about the high quality fiction available from LDS authors, and to draw in new readers."

Over a hundred years ago, Latter-day Saint Apostle Orson F. Whitney declared "We shall yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. . . . 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."

Anyone can nominate a novel published during the previous calendar year in any of seven categories, and a final academy of industry professionals will vote on the final ballot. Nominations are being taken for books published in 2007 by LDS authors at the Whitney Awards website: http://www.whitneyawards.com/

###

CONTACT:
Robison Wells
Whitney Awards President
robisonwells@msn.com
http://www.whitneyawards.com/
(801) 691-9115

Whitney Awards Committee
13 West Center
Oak City, UT 84649

Monday, October 22, 2007

More on Manti

First off, I have to say that the writing conference was terrific. Several other author friends were there, including Josi (my abosolute ball of a roommate) and Jules. My co-director for the 2008 LDStorymaker conference, Heather, was also there, and the two of us had our brains going the entire time in planning mode, noticing how they did certain things and getting new ideas for the conference.

It was also a great chance to learn some new things, refresh your mind on others, and just get charged for writing in general. I even squeezed a little writing in on my Neo.

I thought I'd post a little more about the Manti trip, since it was such a great day and my husband and I took so many pictures. (Trust me; I'll spare you most of them--like the dozens of headstones--but some are just too cool not to share!)

First, to address one question from last time: I have no idea why there used to be a tunnel through the bottom of the east tower. Wild tidbit for which I have to answer!

Now for a few new photos:

Here I am standing next to a marker for where the Little Fort used to be, built to protect the early settlers from Indians. The fort was built out of solid stone, and I'm guessing the rock here is one of them.




The west doors are huge. Here I am pretending to walk inside. I'm about 5' 5", to give you an idea of how huge these puppies are. A lot of wedding pictures are taken right here.



Now this one was way cool. Right up close to the wall on the southeast side (if you go up the staircase there), you can see where this one was snapped. You can still see tool marks on the stone--lots of different sizes of chisels must have been used on these stones. Some look almost pock-marked, while others seem sort of checkerboard-like. Each worker must have had their own style.



Last one today: the EAST side of the building, which is technically the front, but you almost never see this view, since it faces the hillside. I love the double staircase--which you can't see here at all (they're below the windows; you can see the very tips of the bannisters)--because I couldn't back up far enough. The hill was in the way.



I've had a few crazy days where I've fallen somewhat behind on my daily wordcount, but I will catch up. The Manti book is almost done. It's so close I can taste it!

(Sort of like the lunch hubby and I had at Gandolpho's. Yum . . . I had no idea they make such yummy chocolate cake!)

And may I say, I really love Tabitha? She's such a neat person, even if she is fictional!

Friday, October 19, 2007

To Manti We Will Go

A week ago I took a trip down to Manti for research purposes. While I've been there before, it's been several years, and I had never been there using my writer eyes, if that makes sense. I notice things in a very different way when I look at them as possible writing subjects, such as the many old homes still in Manti.

While I normally notice and enjoy things like that, I probably wouldn't remember any particular home after leaving. And I certainly wouldn't drive really slowly through the streets of Manti with hazard lights flashing, jumping out every so often to snap pictures of potential homes for locations in my story. Here are two buildings that will figure quite prominently in the book:





It was also good to be able to see the layout of the city and determine how far my characters would have to walk to get from A to B and whether my scene where I describe C could really have taken place where I put it (fortunately, that one works as I wrote it).

There are a couple of scenes I need to tweak already because now I have a new perspective on the area. For example, I hadn't realized just how close to the temple the cemetery is. The cemetery figures into the story, so that is helpful information.



The headstone below has an inscription that struck me as something I might use as well. The intriguing part is hard to read in the picture, but I jotted it down in my handy-dandy notebook, so we're good.



One thing that struck me about the cemetery is the mixture of very old and very new graves side by side. We found graves from 2007 intermingled with ones from the earliest settlers, headstones that were still shiny next to ones that crumbled and were illegible. Among the graves we found Edward Parry, the temple's master mason, and William Fowler, who wrote the hymn, "We Thank Thee Oh, God, for a Prophet."

A fun tidbit I recently learned about the Manti temple is that at one point (years after the dedication) it had a grand staircase leading up the hill from the street. The picture below shows where it used to be. You can tell by the gate opening that's still visible (but padlocked and unusable).



Another fun thing I got to see was the spot where a tunnel used to go right through the east side of the temple. People used to joke that you could "go through" the temple without a recommend. The tunnel was wide enough to drive through in a car. It has since been closed off, and at a distance, the spot looks like another window. A close-up view from the south, however, shows where it used to be:



We took a boatload of photos, and I have so many more I'll likely share here again soon.

For now, though, I'm heading off to pack an overnight bag, because I'll be at a writing conference until Saturday night. It should be a great shot in the arm--and a ton of fun to boot, since I'll be hanging out with some of my best writer buds ever.

I hope I'll get a little writing done while I'm there, but when you're sharing a hotel room with one of your best friends, there's a good chance girl chat will interfere!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Skinny Deb

I'm so darn proud of my sister-in-law that I have to brag on her behalf. She's too humble to do it for herself, so here we go:

Several months ago, Deb and I were chatting when she told me that she had entered a state-wide weight-loss contest sponsored by Kmart.

"Neat," I thought. "Good for her."

And I didn't think much of it again, but lo and behold, over the next several weeks, Deb started shrinking. I'd hear about her latest nutrition strategies and exercise routines. She'd even give me tips and pass along Slim Fast products that she got for free as a participant. (She preferred the non-chocolate flavors . . . something I'll never understand, as much as I love the woman.)

Suddenly she announced that she had won the contest for the entire state of Utah. For being the winner, she received a small cash prize and, if memory serves, a piece of exercise equipement.

After congatulating her and being horribly impressed, I didn't think about the contest again, because it was over now. But wasn't it great that she won? Of course, the state winners went on to the national level, but really, what were the chances of anyone going that far?

Then a few weeks later, I got a phone call from a very, very excited Deb, saying that she had just received word that she had won the contest for the ENTIRE country.

Yes, folks, skinny Deb is the grand prize winner of the 2007 Kmart New Day Your Way weight-loss contest!

Not only did she lose over 40 lbs (and she's dropped at least 8 more since the contest ended!) but she received $10,000, lots of fun clothes (many of which are now too BIG for her), a bunch of exercise equipment, and TWO trips to New York City. The first trip was last summer, during which time she and the runners-up got makeovers and were part of photo shoots to show off their new bodies.

I found out last night that she and the runners-up are finally posted on the New Day Your Way website, including a totally cool video that shows clips from all of the women. In it they talk about the contest and their journey. It also includes bits and pieces of their sight seeing and photo shoots. You'll see Deb sitting in Central Park as she talks about her experience.

Hop on over to the website here and check it out. Deb is the gorgeous redhead.

To see the video, click on the picture at the lower left that says, "Watch the New York Photo Shoot."

Yes, people, I am related to this wonder woman. (Okay, fine. By marriage. But I'll take it.)

Congratulations, Deb! You deserve this!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Made My Day

I'm probably not supposed to know this, but I found out, and so I'm excited and all that.

I'm officially in the running for a Whitney Award this year.

That doesn't even mean I'm officially on the ballot, but to me it's something to celebrate nonetheless. What it does mean is that at least five people liked Spires of Stone enough to nominate it for the award, so the book is officially on the list for consideration by the Whitney committee. I'm assuming I've been nominated under the Historical Fiction category. (And I'm up against stiff competition. I'm sure my good friend--and excellent writer--H. B. Moore will be nominated too, among several other authors.)

The folks on the committee get to read every single book that gets at least five nominations, and they decide on the finalists that go onto the ballot. Then the Academy, comprised of industry professionals (editors, bookstore owners, etc.) get to vote.

It's nice to imagine getting a Whitney at the big gala (held this coming March 22nd, immediately following the 5th Annual LDStorymakers Writers Conference). But regardless of whether I get one, it's exciting to realize that there were several readers out there already, only a month or whatever out from its release, who thought it worthy of the honor.

YES!

To put the cherry on top, I got an email from a reader just the other day:

You really should put a warning on the front of this book that is bright and can't be missed. It should say "Warning!!! Do NOT Start after 8pm." You see I started it last night at 8 pm and could not put it down! Therefore I was up until 4:30 a.m. Warn me next time!!! My mother and I really enjoyed Spires of Stone. We usually enjoy your books but you out did yourself.

Ya know, I'm half tempted to make a cross stitch of that one and hang it on the wall.

So Sara, I'll be shooting you off a personal e-mail soon, but if you happen to stumble on this here, THANK YOU for making my day!

In the meantime, if you've read a great book by an LDS author (written for the LDS or the national market) that was published in 2007, be sure to visit the Whitney Awards website to nominate it. I have a couple in mind that I'll be nominating for sure.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Writing Topsy-Turvy

The way I write comes as a surprise to many people, readers and writers alike, but I can't help the way I do it: I don’t write my books chronologically.

Yes, I do start at the beginning and go from there. Sort of. My beginnings have a tendency to be cursed. My critique group laughs at me because I’ll bring what I think is my first chapter with the heading reading only, "Chapter." I won’t commit to it being "Chapter One" until later, because way too often I’ve had to rewrite the chapter—several times, start elsewhere in the story, or (worst of all) trash the section altogether.

Once I figure out the beginning, I generally go on my merry way for several scenes or chapters. But then I can’t help myself; I always jump ahead.

While I don’t write strict outlines of my books with every scene and plot point pre-determined, I do have a general idea of where I’m going. If the plot has points from A to Z, I know what D, G, K, P, and W are. I also know Z. But I don’t always know how I’ll get from A to D or what will fill the gap between D and G. Or exactly how K will develop to that point.

And sometimes even when I do know some of these things, I get really excited about an upcoming scene at say, L or S, and want to write it now. So I do. I figure it’ll come out better when my creative side is on fire about it than waiting until I write another 40,000 words to reach the scene the "real" way. By then my excitement might have petered out, and the resulting scene will be watered-down.

When I fill in the gaps and bridge to the later scenes I’ve already written, some details will have changed, and those scenes that I wrote out of order must be revised—sometimes significantly, sometimes just a tad here and there.

As I’ve mentioned before, I do a ton of my drafting on the fly with my AlphaSmart Neo. If it weren’t for that trusty tool, I wouldn’t get nearly much done.

But with each book, thanks to my upside-down, topsy-turvy way of plotting it out, eventually I reach a point where can’t just sit down and spit out the next scene. I have to be in front of the computer with the entire manuscript before me. That way I can read for flow, see where the holes are and how various scenes need to interconnect, and so on.

As wonderful as the gadget is, I can’t do that on my Neo.

Which makes for difficult drafting of the remaining fourth or so of a book, which for me isn’t the ending fourth of the pages.

That’s where I am now. Some days I have a specific scene I can write on my Neo, such as yesterday, when I sat in the car and wrote as my husband drove us down to Manti for research. (way cool visit, by the way. I’ll report on that soon.)

But such writing jaunts are getting harder and harder as the spots I need to bridge are shrinking and the chronology needs to be clarified and smoothed out.

Which makes my current 4-week challenge, well, more of a challenge for me.

Yikes-a-moly.

Thanks to everyone who has wished me luck on this last leg.

If only my Neo could help me right to the bitter end . . . sniff.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

One Down, Two to Go

You might have noticed the 4-week challenge on my sidebar, where I've been tracking my progress through my current manuscript. As you can see, my goal was to reach 70,000 words by the deadline (which was yesterday), and I made it, squeaking past the finish line around 9:10 pm with 137 extra words.

The challenge was Tristi's idea, and I'm glad I hopped on board, because it gave me the motivation and the accountability to keep moving forward, even on days when it didn't feel possible.

The problem now is that I still have to keep going on this book at the same pace, and Tristi's challenge is over. Now what?

The way I see it, I have two more challenges ahead.

I'm hereby instituting my own 4-week challenge, beginning today, October 10th, and ending on Wednesday, November 7th. Again I'll track it right here so that I'll just have to get it done to avoid embarrassing myself in front of the blogosphere.

Then I'll have edits and revisions to do, just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas to stop by. Won't THAT be fun? Actually, I did this last year, too, and while it was a bit crazy, I did manage it.

Here's my goal for challenge #2:

By November 7th I will have this book fully drafted. At this point I'm shooting for about 95,000 words, which would mean 25,000 words need to be written between now and then. I'm hoping, hoping, hoping, this story doesn't go longer than that, or my challenge will be up a creek.

Assuming I reach my goal, challenge #3 will kick in: Turning in this puppy to my new editor (Hi, Kirk!) by Christmas.

After drafting, I'll spend a few days polishing, dusting, and fixing before printing it out for trusted readers to go over and hack to pieces on my behalf. I'll be doing the same to it (and likely to theirs; several of us are in the final stretch).

When I get their feedback, I'll spend a few weeks rewriting and revising before my self-imposed Christmas deadline. (I have readers asking me to write faster to get the Manti book out. See, people! I'm trying, I'm trying! This will give it a shot to come out next fall. Ish. Assuming I feel good enough about the final product to turn it in on time.)

At which point I'll collapse, wrap some presents, decorate a tree, curl up with some hot chocolate and White Christmas (Christmas ain't Christmas without Bing) and not even think about writing until the new year.

Or not. It's hard to turn off that side of your brain when it's been running full-steam for so long.

But maybe I'll take a couple of days during the break to get my kids' photo albums at least sort of caught up.

In the meantime, I'll leave up the old 4-week challenge results for a few days, just so I can see it and think, "Ah, I did it!" but I'll also have a new one tracking my word count from 70,000 to finished manuscript.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Inquring Minds

Since the release of Spires of Stone about a month ago, I've gotten a few questions posed repeatedly. Since I'm guessing that others have the same questions, I thought I'd answer them in one spot.

Here goes:

1) Are your historical books a series? (Do I have to read them in order?)
The simple answer: No. They're stand-alone books that can be read without having cracked open another one.

The slightly more complicated answer: At the Journey's End does take one character from House on the Hill and carry on his story. It's not really a sequel, but more of a spin-off. Rest assured, you can read his entire story without having read the other book. However, if you plan on reading them both, I suggest reading House on the Hill first so the ending isn't ruined when you pick up Journey's End.

As for Spires of Stone, it isn't connected to the other books at all as a sequel or a spin-off. It opens a good decade earlier than House on the Hill and only briefly features two characters from the other books, but those are merely cameos, more of a hello to readers than anything. It stands alone.


2. Did you include this story in Spires of Stone? What about this one? Or this one?
Probably not. Two reasons.

First, the construction of the Salt Lake temple took a whopping 40 years. To use more than a tiny fraction of the stories involved would have made a history text rather than a novel. My goal is to tell a good story where the history serves as a backdrop. I never want to resort to spoon-feeding a history lesson.

Second, I purposely pick elements to portray that not everyone talks about. I want readers to discover neat stuff they didn't know before, and generally speaking, that means not retelling the stories that have been told a thousand times before.


3. Why didn't you tell more about the construction?
The biggest reason is again, the scope of the construction. If a building takes four decades to complete, good luck finding a few months at any point where lots of dramatic events happen. Alternately, trying to tell a story that encompasses many years doesn't usually work. My plot required only a few months.

So I took what I felt was one of the more interesting points in the construction and focused on that: when the second foundation is finally above ground level, and the period when Brigham Young closed the quarry. (Read the book to find out why he closed it; how's that for a cheesy plug?)

Plus, photography plays a significant role in the story, and I couldn't have the technology too advanced for my purposes. All of those elements made me zero-in on a few months of 1867.

But I do flash back to another part of the construction (when the first, cracked foundation is being ripped out). Plus, the epilogue takes places 25 years later at the capstone celebration, another big-time history moment.


There you have it: the most frequently-asked questions about Spires of Stone so far. If you have any others, drop me a line, and I'll answer.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Buzz Going Big

Exciting news!

The networking site I've been hanging out at, Cre8buzz, is going semi-public on SUNDAY.

That means anyone can hop on over and browse through the place. Check out profiles in whatever area you're interested in, discover new blogs and site and so much more.

For a little bit longer, actual membership will still be invitation-only, but I still have invites I can pass along (just give me a holler--and your email address--and I'll shoot one off to you).

Cre8buzz has been a ball (even if it does feed my computer addiction . . .), and it's only going to get better.

I could try to explain how it works and what's so great about it, but I thought I'd just send you over to the Farmer's Wife (someone I met, yep, at the Buzz), who explained it oh-so-well.

Go read her blog about it--and then on Sunday jet over to the Cre8buzz site to check it out!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I'm a Computer Addict

They say the first step is admitting you have a problem.

But somehow I don't think doing that much is anywhere near finding a solution. I discovered just how intensely I needed the computer when I couldn't get onto it.

Today after getting hubby and the three oldest out the door, I had a few minutes to fold a load of laundry, get another load going, take a shower (and wash my hair--darn it, I should have done that yesterday; I could have used the time I spent drying it) before getting my preschooler into the bath, dressed, and into the car for a dentist appointment.

While there, I (of course) pulled out my Neo, knowing that this might be the one and only shot I'd get to write today. 45 minutes later, she came out smiling (impressive, since she got some baby cavities filled), and I tucked away the keyboard.

I threw a granola bar and a baggie of fruit snacks at her so she could eat on the way to her buddy's house, where I dropped her off in time to jet over to the Alpine Country Club for the Seagull Book manager's meeting and (YES!) lunch.

The meal was divine, possibly made even better than it would have been by the fact that I was starving (my breakfast having consisted of a pumpkin chocolate chip cookie . . .).

Following lunch, during which time I chatted with store managers and met a talented artist, we retired to the next room, where I got to speak to the managers, helping them get to know me, my work, and especially anything that might help them promote Spires of Stone to their customers.

It's the one and only time my Best of State medal has left my house since I won it; I thought it would be fun to show, since some people have wondered what that consisted of. Yes, it's an actual Olympic-style gold medal. Pretty snarky. It's been neat to hear managers and store employees say that knowing an author has won an award makes customers more willing to give them (me!) a try.

I wish I could have stuck around and heard the other authors, among them my good friend H. B. Moore, Stephanie Fowers, and Sariah Wilson (who I noticed sitting behind me but didn't get a good chance to actually say hi to--HI SARIAH!--since we've never officially met).

After speaking, I rushed back to the car, picked up my cutie preschooler, and hurried to our next stop: the elementary school, for parent-teacher conferences. The great news is that they were both short and to the point: my girls are performing above grade level and are behave like model students. The only complaint? One teacher suggested my 5th grader speak louder. (Not the most common "goal" made at these meetings; usually aren't they, "Please be quieter"?)

Again, we jetted from there to the next place: the junior high, where my poor son had to wait for me to get him since I had been waylaid at the elementary school.

After getting people settled with homework and piano practicing, I practially RAN to the computer. I turned it on, tapping my foot impatiently for it to boot up. I don't know the last time I got to the computer this late in the day. I could practically feel DT's coming on as the email program loaded and for a dreaded second seemed to freeze. (The humanity!)

But I didn't have much time on said computer. I managed to check a few emails and print out what I would be taking to critique group tonight before I had to be Taxi Mom again and run DD10 to orchestra practice. After a few minutes at home transferring the scene I wrote at the dentist's office to the computer and pasting it where it belonged (and updating my word count on the sidebar with the challenge there), I had to pick up said daughter from orchestra.

Now I'm writing this, but I really should be cleaning up the kitchen and making dinner, because my critique group will be descending on the house in hour--and trust me, the kitchen isn't a pretty sight right now.

So why in the world did I feel compelled to spit all this onto the screen this very second? I'm strapped for time, I have lots to do--and GUESTS coming over.

Simple. I'm an addict.

Gotta blog. Gotta e-mail. Gotta write.

Maybe tomorrow I'll get around to vacuuming upstairs like I had hoped to do today . . .

AFTER I get my computer fix.

Coming Soon: Firsts and Lasts

UPDATE: Firsts and Lasts is now live as an ebook, and it'll soon be available in paperback as wel! Get the ebook HERE . I've got s...