Thursday, January 31, 2008

Book Club Questions -- 3

Two more questions from the book club, and we'll move on to other topics.

I get these these two questions a lot, from both readers and aspiring writers alike.

1) How do you find time to write?
The short answer: I get creative. (I'm a writer; we're a creative lot, right?)

The longer answer: My writing time has shifted over the years. It sort of has to when adding babies to the family and as the kidlets go through different stages. The key for me is finding where the gaps are. It used to be nap times, for example. But I've also learned to use what I call "brainless" moments to plan ahead and to write in small snatches and with distractions.

I use brainless moments (like driving the car or sorting laundry) to think ahead to what scene I need to write next when I get the chance. And then when I have 45 minutes in the dance class lobby, I make sure to have my AlphaSmart Neo with me so I can make the most of that time.

This school year is a new one for me, though: My older kids are all in full-time school, and my youngest has preschool three days a week, giving me six hours alone at the computer. It rocks.

Another big key is prioritizing. I watch very little TV. I have very few hobbies. You make time for what is important to you, whether that's scrapbooking or writing.

2) How do you get your story ideas?
Since turning to temple-related historical fiction, I have a different answer than when I wrote contemporary novels. Back then I could point to a vivid dream, a radio show, a newspaper article, or other modern source for my ideas.

Now, I don't have any inkling about what I'll be writing until after I start research on my next temple. I read up on the settling of the area and the construction of the specific temple with no preconceived notions about what story I'll be telling about it.

This can be a bit unnerving. A couple of times I've gotten worried, when, a few weeks into research, I still have no characters or plotline.

But if I keep reading, immersing myself in the new time and place, it happens. Maddie from At the Journey's End popped into my head fully formed after a couple of weeks of researching the Honeymoon Trail. I had a similar experience with Tabitha, the heroine of my Manti book (currently awaiting acceptance with my publisher).

For me, the research process is like making a new friend. I have to find out all I can about the area and the temple, and as I do so, the "friend" (the book) reveals itself to me. (No, I don't need a strait jacket . . . I don't think.)

At times the characters and storylines pop into my head. For others, I can point to specific moments of research that led to certain character or plot element, such as a BYU paper I read about Mormons adopting or indenturing Native Americans in the 1850s. I immediately knew that a major character House on the Hill would be an adopted Shoshone boy. (Abe has since arguably become my most popular character.)

That's it for book club questions for the time being.

Next time, I'll explain what led up to this question posed to me several years ago:

Are you a nurse?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Book Club Questions -- 2

We're moving on to a few other book club questions regarding Spires, which I'll try to answer without any major spoilers:

1) How did Hannah change over the course of the story?
In a nutshell, I think she went from girl to woman.

Some book clubbers wondered why she was so trusting at first. To me, it was simple: Hannah was innocent and pure in heart and it never would have crossed her mind that a person she trusted would do something intentionally cruel or deceitful.

Lesson learned the hard way.

2) What kept Ben and Bethany at odds for so long, when their fight began from single argument?
In a nutshell, individual pride. It's that pride that kept each of them from making the first step toward reconciliation for so long. Pride is what led to the fight in the first place. It's also what fueled their banter.

3) Why did Claude have to go away?
In his eyes, it was the only way he could live with himself. In my eyes, it was a way for him to find redemption.

I love getting reader questions, especially those that make the characters feel as real to the readers as the characters feel to me.

One of my favorite reader questions of all time came from a woman, a second wife, who had read Lost without You. Her question was reported to me through another person, but this was the gist:

"How did she know what it feels like [to be a second wife]?"

When I heard that, I felt such satisfaction. How did I know? I didn't, not really. I tried to imagine what it would be like. To think I hit the nail on the head was gratifying.

Next up:
1) How do you find time to write?
2) How do you get your story ideas?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Book Club Questions -- 1

As promised, I'm (finally!) getting around to addressing some of the questions the book club in West Jordan posed. Several of their questions were really great, and since I've heard some of them a few times now, I thought I'd answer them here as well, because I'm pretending other readers will care!

Today we'll address two questions:

1) How do you pick your characters' names?
I keep a running file with potential character names, with a column each for female, male, and family names. I add names to those lists (or sometimes into a notebook first that I carry with me) whenever I come across common names from the 1800s that I like or might want to use sometime.

The places I find those names are generally while doing research, such as in books, theses, or cemeteries. As I use a name from one of the lists, I take it off so I don't inadvertently use it again later.

As a result of all that, my character names often reflect people from real life, although to my knowledge I've never used both a first and last name of a real person.

However, the answer to this question is a little different for Spires of Stone, seeing as it's s retelling of Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing. I tried to keep similar names to those in the original play.

So for that book we got the following (Much Ado names are on the left, Spires on the right):

Benedick = Ben
Beatrice = Bethany
Hero = Hannah
Claudio = Claude
Don Pedro = Phillip
Leonato = Leo
Margaret = Marie

One note on that, which I know I've mentioned before: Phillip actually play two roles in the book, that of both Don Pedro and that of Don Jon. But since Phillip is a good guy and ends up causing trouble accidentally (instead of deliberately, like the evil Don Jon), I named him after Don Pedro.

2) Why did it take 25 years pass before what happens in the epilogue?
Okay, so they didn't ask it quite that way, but I don't want to post a spoiler.

The lady who asked this question thought that maybe 25 years was meaningful to me or to the one of the characters in some way, that one person in particular needed a quarter century to heal and reflect before that final section.

That sounds really good, so we can pretend that's the reason I set the epilogue then.

The real reason, however, is far less noble: I wanted to include more information about the temple than I had already, and the capstone celebration was a perfect day to show more of the history. It also provided a great backdrop for the final (what I hope are emotional) moments of the story.

Next time I'll answer a few more questions:
1) How did Hannah change over the course of the story? (A great discussion followed this one.)
2) What kept Ben and Bethany at odds for so long, when their fight began from single argument?
3) Why did Claude have to go away?

I'll do my best to answer them without any big spoilers. :)

If you have a question for me, drop it into the comments section and I'll answer it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Fortnight Gone

Yesterday marked the end of a wonderful two weeks. It was the last chance to spend time with my parents before they headed back to land of the Fazer blue chocolate bar and dark winters to continue their church service for nearly two more years in Helsinki.

Three years ago they left for an assignment at the BYU Jerusalem Center, which lasted over a year and a half. A few months before they were to leave the Holy Land, they were given their next assignment, which they're in the middle of now. By the time they are released from that one, it'll be almost five years of continuous service, with a handful of brief visits scattered here and there.

In those three years they've missed a lot, including family baptisms, ordinations, a grandchild going on a mission, and then those smaller things, like dance recitals and basketball games. On the flip side, I think those of us left at home have felt blessed in some ways by their service.

My youngest was 2 when they left. She'll be 7 when they return for good. (Assuming they don't get sent off to Zaire or something next . . . KNOCK ON WOOD.) This visit was especially great as I've watched my kids reconnect with Grandma and Grandpa, spending time together as if they had never been apart.

Last night we had them over for dinner and to say good-bye, although they weren't able to stay long. Before they left, Dad offered a family prayer—such a blessing to my little family. Then we said our tearful good-byes. I was pretty much a wreck, and my little 8-year-old was beside herself. When the door closed, her body was taken over by wracking sobs. The two of us sat on the couch and cried.

Eventually, after we wiped our eyes and caught our breath, I dove into my stress-reliever of choice, picking up my knitting needles to begin a new project for the very daughter who had grieved with me. The rest of the family cheered up as they watched a musical on DVD downstairs. After thirty minutes or so of knitting, I felt much better and was able to join them in watching the show too.

I'll continue to miss Mom and Dad dreadfully, and it gets worse every year, because the older I am, the more I experience as a mother and a wife, the more clearly I see my parents. The filter I saw them through when I was seven or seventeen wasn't capable of the appreciation and respect of the filter that I have now, as an adult, with children of my own.

I can unequivocally say they are some of the most remarkable people you'll ever find. As their child, I am one of the luckiest people on Earth.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Celebrating the Whitney Way

I fully meant to write about the book club I attended recently, posting a question or two that they posed and giving answers to them.

But then something fun happened, so I'm bumping those posts to next week.

On Tuesday, January 15, the finalists for the first annual Whitney Awards were announced.

And I'm one of them!

(Visit the complete list all the finalists here. Scroll all the way to the bottom to find the Historical novel finalists . . . and Spires of Stone!)

For a full explanation on the Whitneys, visit the official website. But a nutshell version is that they're aimed at recognizing excellence in fiction written by LDS authors who strive to improve their work. The award can go to any writers who are LDS, regardless of what market they write for.

It's is named after Apostle Orson F. Whitney who had the vision of the Latter-day Saints some day creating literature that would "reach the heavens," that some day we'd have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. (Not that we've reached that point, but it's a target to strive for.)

There are five genre categories, plus awards for best novel by a new author and novel of the year.

The great news is that I made the cut to the finals in my genre. The bad news is that three of the four books I'm up against in my category are also up for Novel of the Year. That is mighty intimidating company to keep! (But hey, I'll consider it a compliment!)

More good news: H. B. (Heather) Moore and Michele Paige Holmes nabbed two nominations each. (Congrats again, ladies!) Our little critique group did pretty well for itself!

The Whitney Awards Gala will be immediately following the 5th Annual LDStorymakers writing conference on March 22. The public can come, but tickets are going fast, so if you want to be there, buy yours soon. (The Whitney site has a link for ticket purchases.)

Next week I'll get back on track (really, I will!), but for now, chocolate is in order.

And since my parents are visiting from Finland right now (another HUGE cause for celebration!), I actually have some of my favorite chocolate bar in the world hiding in my night stand.

A huge thanks to all to those who read Spires of Stone and thought it worth nominating. I appreciate it more than you know!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Random Awesome-ness

Today I have two topics I wanted to be sure to cover.

First, to answer Luisa's question from last week's Day Read:

"Which LMM was your indulgence of choice?"

The answer: I spent time on one of her (L. M. Montgomery's) books that I hadn't read in several years, Anne of Ingleside.

It was fun reading it this time for a couple of reasons. One is that I'm reading her journals from the period shortly before she began this book, so I have an inkling as to what was happening in her life at the time. One issue causing her grief with her son Chester likely inspired the last couple of chapters of this book. (If you've read it, you can probably guess what he was guilty of.)

For those who like reading LMM but are not as obsessed with her as I am, I thought I'd also mention that this was the last Anne book she ever wrote (and the second to last book of her career, followed only by Jane of Lantern Hill, if I recall correctly). The Anne book prior to Ingleside was Anne of Windy Poplars (which was originally published as Anne of Windy Willows in the UK, which I think is a much better name. And really, I hate poplars. Willows are so much nicer.)

If you know the usual numbers associated with typical "order" of the series (chronological as far as Anne's life goes), the real order they were written and published in goes as follows: #1, #2, #3, #5, #7, #8, #4, #6.

Which makes so much more sense when she refers to things that will happen in the future, because she's already written and published those stories (such as a reference in Ingleside to seeing Walter in his bed as a little boy with the shadow of a cross above it and foreshadowing to what that might have meant in Rilla of Ingleside).

It was also interesting for me to read it now because of the stage in life I'm at. The book covers several years, and by the end, Anne and Gilbert have been married something like 14 years and her youngest child, Rilla, is five.

Come April, I will have been married 14 years, and my youngest is five.

I'm at the same stage as Anne, with many of the same experiences of motherhood and marriage that I can relate to in a totally different way than I ever could all the other times I read the book as a younger person--especially my first time, in eighth grade.

Regarding Luisa's second request, that I elaborate on the book group I visited last week, I'll post about that soon. I enjoyed the evening thoroughly. There were lots of terrific ladies (thanks again for hosting, Bonnie! You're such a sweetheart!) who posed wonderful questions, and we had a great discussion. I thought I'd post some of their questions and answer them here in a few different posts.

The second thing I wanted to be sure to mention today is something I've long neglected to blog about and have meant to for some time, a delightful lotion sitting beside my writing desk.

Which I won through Karlene Browning's Urban Botanics blog. I took a personality test that's supposed to determine the types of fragrances you prefer. That entered me into a drawing, and my name was selected. Then, based on my test results, Karlene made up a scented lotion unique to me.

My custom scent recipe:
5 parts Naked
2 parts Green Apple
2 parts Honeysuckle
2 parts Violet

I never in a million years would have come up with such a combination (fruity and floral?), but it's a refreshing, light scent that I really like. Who knew? It's subtle and not overpowering, and the lotion itself rocks. (I always have lotion nearby. Dry skin, ya know.)

I've really enjoyed it. (Thanks, Karlene!) Drop by her blog and check it out.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Day to Read

I heard about the idea of a Day to Read several weeks ago, first from Brillig the Great and then from Novembrance. The creator of the concept is Soccer Mom in Denial. Go ahead and read her post about it here.

I jotted the date on my calendar and have looked forward to it ever since.

I think that technically I'm not supposed to be blogging today . . . but it's early enough in the morning that I wanted to at least tell people about the day and encourage them to read to themselves and to their kids. I have a feeling my preschooler and I will be curled up (yet again) with the book she got for Christmas, Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, by the amazing Dr. Seuss. (One of my favorites from childhood.) I'll also get in some mommy reading time.

And appropriately enough, I'm speaking at a book club tonight for a group of ladies who read Spires of Stone.

Until then, I'll first do some basic housecleaning (two loads of laundry REALLY need to be sorted; the kids are out of socks) and then I'm going to dive into reading.

Hope you will, too.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Happens to the Best of Us

As I mentioned in this post, I'm an L. M. Montgomery nut case. I own something like 32 books that she wrote (among them her mini-biography, The Alpine Path, several short story collections, and a first edition copy of Anne of Windy Poplars. Of course I own a more recent edition as well.

I also have a CD compilation with oodles of photos and other historical stuff about her. Oh, and a book covering her early career before the first Anne book came out, during which time she was noted for her poetry and short stories.

You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who would think that LMM was not successful in her literary career. Her work spawned several adaptations to stage and film (including at least two films in her lifetime, one during the silent era). Her books have been translated into dozens of languages. After her husband's forced retirement, she was the sole bread-winner for the family. More than sixty years after her death, readers around the world still clamor after her stories.

So it was with a good laugh that I came across a particular publishing tidbit in Volume V of The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery.

Yes, I own all five volumes. They're gold mines of information about her sad life and about history in general. The editors, Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston of the University of Guelph, worked on the project for nearly twenty years. They did a remarkable job, especially in the annotated notes. The five volumes aren't counted in the 30-some-odd books of hers I mentioned before.

(Told you I'm obsessed.)

The following snippet is from her journal entry dated Monday, May 13, 1935. Keep in mind this is about seven years prior to her death, nearly thirty years after Anne of Green Gables was published, and while she was working on one of her last three books:

A letter from Miss Elmo [LMM's New York agent] said she had sold "I Wish You" to Good Housekeeping for $50. I wrote this poem all of five years ago and I thought it one of my best but it has been declined twenty-three times. Good Housekeeping declined it soon after I wrote it. And now it takes it because an agent offered it!

Great reminder about the often topsy-turvy, illogical world that publishing is!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Thrifty Fun

A few months ago I learned about The Grocery Game from fellow blogger Jenna. I'm always on the look-out for ways to pinch a penny, but this web site has brought it to a whole new level. My grocery bill will never be the same.

The basic gist:
Pricing on grocery store items goes up and down in relatively predictable patterns. When laundry detergent is on sale, chances are that cereal or whatever else is not. Plus, all sales are not created equal. Sometimes an item may be marked down by only a matter cents, but if you wait a few weeks, the price will drop much more.

Clipping coupons always helps, and in years past, I could save a bit with my weekly coupon stash.

But what if you could take the rock-bottom prices when they arrived and combine them with coupons to get screaming deals?

Holy cow, that's what.

The Grocery Game does just that. It does the tracking for you. Your job is to clip the coupons from your weekly Sunday paper (doesn't hurt to find some on-line too) and then check out the weekly list they provide for your local grocery stores to see when to spend which coupons to get the best deals.

The service is subscription-based. You get one store's list for the regular (low) subscription rate, plus any additional stores for a small additional fee. I get the lists for two stores, because they often have very different items at rock bottom prices. It's worth the extra effort to visit two stores when I'm saving so much money, and I don't mind paying for the fee when I'm saving a boatload more than I'm paying for the list.

Every week they have color-coded items based on basic sale prices : black (it's on sale, but it's not rock-bottom, so buy the item only if you really need the thing), blue (a great deal--stock up!), and green (FREE!). The goal, of course, is to eventually buy only blue and green products.

You stock-up on the low-prices items even if you don't need them now so that when the price goes back up, you won't be paying the higher amount, and you'll already have enough on hand to wait until the next time the price is blue.

This is affecting my family in dramatic ways. For starters, we're eating a bigger variety of foods. If I find a great deal on certain products, I'm more likely to dig up recipes to go with them. If I get produce at a great price, I want to be sure I use it before it goes bad. A lot of things on the list are pre-packaged goods (think Hamburger Helper and the like), but I've found a ton of of healthy things as well (frozen vegetables, great deals on lean meats, and much more).

It's also been helpful to stock up on household items that we all use, like laundry detergent (I got an 8-month supply of a good brand--for our family of 6--for about twenty bucks), toilet paper (gotten a ton of it for FREE), toothpaste (GOOD brands for about a buck a piece) toothbrushes (found a good brand toothbrush recently for TWENTY-FIVE CENTS), deodorant, make-up, hair products . . . the list goes on.

I've also stocked up on basics like vitamins, cooking oil, sugar, and flour for general food storage.

The freezer is bulging. Our storage room shelves have had to be reorganized three times to accomodate all the new food. Another bonus: we eat out less now, since there's always something I can whip up for dinner in the house, so it's less tempting to grab take-out.

Every week I leave the grocery store feeling like I'm getting away with something sneaky. And if I don't save at least 50% off the bill, I feel let down. Yeah, it's that effective!

If you're interested in trying it out, you can get a 4-week trial for a buck. And since I'm all into FREE stuff, I have to mention that I can get free weeks on the The Grocery Game if you put in my e-mail address as the one that referred you: annette [at] lyfe [dot] com

Try it out and see for yourself how much you can save!


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