Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sadism and the Writer

I've come to accept that I'm a sadist, but in the best way, if that's possible.

Recently I received two e-mails from readers. They were of the variety that make you think, "Yes, I can write! I'm not completely delusional!"

Writers can go from thinking one second that every word they write is magical to falling into despair the next moment, huddled in a fetal position and rocking back and forth, positive that they can't write a coherent word and that they're morons for thinking they can.

It's a bit extreme going between the two opposites, and you never get used to it. One would think that getting novels and articles published would assuage the fears. It doesn't. It just provides you with anxiety because now actual readers (people you don't even know!) are reading your work and making judgments on it. It's enough to send you into heart palpitations and panic attacks.

Ironically, getting positive feedback can be just as paralyzing. I've received some amazing responses about At the Journey's End, including a review from Jennie Hansen at Meridian Magazine that about blew my socks off. I had never before read a review from her that didn't find something negative to say. This was the first, and she finished with saying that the book gets her highest recommendation.

Whoa! Happy dance! Bronze the review!

And immediately following the panic rolls in: it was a fluke. I'll never, ever, be able to write well again or live up to that book. Why bother trying? Give me some chocolate as I curl up and start rocking back and forth.

Right now I have those two e-mails that made my day, and (so far) I haven't gone into the tailspin that can follow. Both messages had a common theme: At the Journey's End kept them reading late into the night. They both stayed up to finish it, one until 4:00 am and the other until 5:00 am.

So I'm single-handedly responsible for these two ladies being zombies the following day! How totally cool is that? As a writer, I can imagine few pieces of information that could excite me more. Apparently I am a sadist when it comes to perfect strangers reading my books.

That might be enough to consider me a bit twisted, but now a new element has entered the horizon that makes me wonder just what kind of person I really am.

I'm working on a project targeted at middle-grade girl readers (roughly ages 8-11). To test-run the piece, I've sent it to several girls I know that age, including two of my daughters, ages 9 and 7. The younger is slightly too young to read it herself, so I've been reading it to her.

After the most recent chapter, she told me that it feels like the story is really happening.

YES! SCORE!

And then she said something else that made me both thrilled and a tiny bit horrified at my own reaction:

"If feels real. That's why I cried."

YES! SCORE!

But wait a minute; since when is it a moment of pride and satisfaction to make your 7-year-old burst into tears?

I've said it before, and the more time passes, the more I'm convinced it's true: writers are weird bunch.

And quite possibly sadistic.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Tagged . . . Twice

It all started with a seemingly innocent email from fellow writer Marsha Ward about a blog and some people being tagged—whatever that meant. Curious, I investigated and discovered that my friend Tristi Pinkston had "tagged" Marsha in her blog.

The game is simple: When you're tagged, you tell the world five things about yourself that most people don't know.

So I learned five things about Marsha (ouch on the mountain climb, by the way), and headed to Tristi's blog (glad you made it to your wedding day). That's where I discovered that she had been tagged by Jeff Savage (remind me never to fly on a plane with you), who, it turns out had tagged me a couple of days prior.

Being as I've spent the last two weeks with one or two children sick at all times and a weekend when I could scarcely stand up because I was sick myself, I didn't get around to reading my friends' blogs.

Thus I didn't know I had been tagged, or even what that meant until about two hours ago. (Sorry, Jeff!)

So here I am, two days after Jeff officially tagged me, now tagged by Julie Wright as well. Since I'm unaware of any official tagging rule book, I'm going to list five things about myself instead of ten and hope no one calls a foul.

#1. I dressed up as a rapper in high school for a drill team routine.
A fellow teammate, Konnie, did, too. In drill team there were various categories for competition: the typical dance category (I don't recall it having a fancy name), military (my favorite), prop, and novelty. This was for the novelty category, a dance to the song, "Ugly," which was popular around 1990 ("U-G-L-Y, you're ugly." Ring a bell?) Most of the team dressed up in really ugly clothes, including matching green shirts. Half wore in fat suits, and everyone had hair and makeup that would frighten a small child, including teeth blackened out, the whole bit. Then Konnie and I "rapped" and danced in front. We got frighteningly high marks with the routine. The most fun part, though, was performing it for at pep rally before a game with our rival high school. It wasn't a coincidence that the girls' shirts were green (our rivals' color). And instead of spelling out "ugly" in two rows on their backsides like they usually did, the team spelled out our rivals’ mascot, "bulldogs." Silly, yes. But fun.

#2. I met my husband doing the cha cha.
Technically it began when my prom date tried to teach some cha cha steps to me that he had learned out a book. Not particularly exact, but it hooked me. By the time I entered college, I couldn't wait to take ballroom dance. I made it onto one of the summer teams and then wanted to be on the cha cha routine, which we had in-team tryouts for. (Anyone who didn't make the 6-couple cha cha had to be on the Triple Swing dance; ick.) At the end of one practice, I thought that my last partner of the day led well and that we worked really smoothly together. That's my first memory of Rob. We tried out for the routine together, managed to be partners, and by the time we had our first date two months later, we were already great friends.

#3. I love to knit.
To be honest, I hated it when I first learned, but a few projects into the process, I managed to stop holding the needles as if I had to strangle them and discovered that knitting is great fun. Around age 12 I discovered that it helps me to destress and calm down. I tend to be a bit too busy to knit much anymore, but I still manage one decent project a year for my kids, rotating between them. This year it's my 9-year-old's turn. She's requested a light blue jacket with a hood and a big purple S on the back. Her word is my command. And the S is almost done.

#4. I hate shrimp.
Go figure. I have no idea why. But aside from your basic fish (salmon, trout, halibut), I just can't wrap my taste buds around sea food of any kind. It grosses me out. Lobster? Are you kidding me? It's a giant cockroach (scientifically, too; ew). My favorite fish ever: Dad's rainbow trout from the Provo River (or even better, the High Uintahs), skinned, and gently fried in his special flour coating. Sprinkle on a little lemon pepper and let your eyeballs roll back. Oh, yeah.

#5. I know little to nothing about chocolate.
Okay, so as the one of the founding sisters and producers of the Utah Chocolate Show, I'm hesitant to admit this one. I am an expert on EATING chocolate. Does that count? Truthfully, I entered the production end as the copywriter, then doing sales, then PR, and my role continued to morph. Early on show attendees would stop me and ask some involved chocolate question, and I’d get the deer in the headlights look. I still have to pass on the tougher questions to the experts, but I've tried to learn about chocolate over the years, and I really have made progress. I can now make chocolate-dipped strawberries and pretzels and tulip cups. I know what "tempering" means, even if I can't DO it, and I can even give pretty decent advice on what type and brand of chocolate for a few projects. Since one of my jobs is writing a weekly e-letter for show attendees and chocolate lovers, I've had to do research and learn. I've gleaned things I never knew I didn't know. What’s chocolate viscocity? I know (now). You're horribly impressed, right?

And for the fun part: tagging the next victims. So many of my blogging friends are already tagged, that this may be a bit tricky.

Let's go with:

Emmelyn Freitas, a great actress and friend. We’ve known one another long enough that we both have plenty of stories to blackmail the other with. But even longer than our friendship has been that of our fathers’, who are long-time fishing buddies, which goes right back to my #4.

Katie Parker, fellow LDStorymaker and book reviewer.

Linda Paulson Adams, another LDStorymaker. I almost said she was an author, but that’s redundant.

Dave McClellan, husband of my friend Erin, he’s one freaking talented artist.

I know I'm one short. Go ahead; throw a flag!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Tower of . . . what?

Brief and rather odd observation this time . . .

I spent the evening cutting hair. First I cut my husband's hair, something I do more often now that his new job has a more strict dress code. Then I did minor trims on two of my daughters. Finally, my son got a cut as well. Okay, so everyone but one child got a haircut.

So far, so good.

Child #3, a rather curious, precocious, and very helpful little girl, often lurks with the broom as I snip, sweeping up around me. It's generally not that helpful in the long run, because more hair falls where she's just swept, and we end up cleaning the same spots as before when we're done.

This time, she was lurking, but not with the broom. Instead, she gathered hair samples from family members to compare colors.

I didn't think too much of it beyond thinking that we have a budding scientist or artist, perhaps.

The kidlets got ready for bed, we read scriptures and a chapter out of the current book, and ushered the little ones off to dreamland. Then I go into the kitchen.

And I find four tupperware-style plastic cups with their lids on, stacked in a tower on the kitchen table.

Each with their own hair inside.

I'm not sure whether to think I've got some secret genius on my hands or to be totally creeped out.

And do I dare ever use those plastic cups ever again?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Another Already?

After “What are you calling it?” one of the most-asked questions I get about my writing is, “So, have you started anything new since your last book?”

Lately the answer has shocked a lot of people, because it’s not that I’ve started anything; I’ve finished something and turned it in.

The reaction: “But didn't your last book just come out?!”

Well, yes, it did. But trust me on this one; I’m not some Super Woman who whips out a book in three months flat (HA!!!! It’s hysterical to even think that, especially when you factor in the research involved in a historical novel.)

So to set the record straight, here’s the scoop on how this publishing time line thing works.

In a nutshell, it takes a whole lot longer to get anything through the pipeline than most people realize. The LDS market is much quicker than the national market, but even here it simply takes time.

Here’s what a typical manuscript goes through for me: First I draft the book. Then I revise it several times, giving it to my critique group and revising again. When I think it’s polished enough, I submit it to my editor.

Then it goes out to three different readers who fill out a huge evaluation form with something like a dozen pages or more. This process generally takes two or three months. For a new writer trying to break in, the process can take much longer, since current authors gets priority in getting their stuff out to the readers.

If the evaluations are favorable and the editor feels the manuscript is strong enough, it’ll be brought to the committee. That’s where the final publication decisions are made. Once it’s officially accepted, three or four months may have passed since submission for a regularly publishing author. In my rejection days, this part would take six to nine months or longer.

Then comes the fun of edits—a content edit and likely two line edits as the manuscript ping pongs between me and my editor. This can last weeks or months.

After that are the proofs. Again, several of them, some done by me, others by hired proofers. By the time the book is sent to be typeset into the final galleys (so it’s formatted and printed on the page just how it’ll look in the final book), I’m ready to burn the thing. I can practically recite the book in my head, I’m certain that it’s awful, and if I ever read another word of it again, it’ll be too soon. The proofing stage can be a couple of weeks or an entire month or more.

Once the book is finally ready, it’s sent off to the press. Getting the final copies printed and warehoused takes a good two months, and then shipping them to stores takes even longer.

The upshot is that if the entire process takes less than ten months, you’re lucky. So you submit one book and get to work on the next.

At the Journey’s End was submitted December of 2005 and was released this last September. In January of 2006 I began working on my next book, which I submitted right before Christmas. (Do the math here—the book took nearly a year to complete. I'm not close to Wonder Woman.)

So now I do the waiting game until I hear for sure that this next book (my Salt Lake temple one) is officially accepted. If and when it is, I’ll begin the editing process sometime around March or April.

The delay feels a little weird at times—here I am promoting and talking about a book that I wrote over a year ago, when I’ve been living and breathing (and very excited about) a different book during that entire time. But for readers, of course, it feels immediate. They don’t know when you wrote the thing, submitted it, or, most likely, how long the editorial/publication process took.

But now you do.

So what am I doing now that I turned in my latest manuscript? Naturally, I’m starting research for my next one, set in Manti. The weirdness factor sets in when I think that if all goes well, it’ll be released fall of 2008. By the time I turn in the Manti book, my Salt Lake one should be in print. By the time Manti is published, I’ll be nearly done writing a different book altogether.

And so it goes . . .