Monday, March 31, 2008

The Writer Brain Curse

It's bad enough that after years of critiquing and editing my own and other writers' work that it's almost impossible to read a book for the sheer fun of it. I can't shut off the editor in my brain. I can't help but rewrite sentences in my head as I go or notice plot holes and character motivation problems.

But it's getting worse.

The research end of my brain is now poking holes into plots too.

I recently finished reading a book that had a rip-roaring fun plot. The story was action-packed and very well written. My editor brain didn't even have to pull out the red pen too often.

The problem, then? Factual details that . . . weren't.

And this isn't even a historical novel.

Three (among many) that jumped out at me:

1) This one is something almost everyone knows: referring (several times) to knowing that you don't have cell phone reception because there is no dial tone. Excuse me? Okay, so the book is probably ten years old. Cell phones weren't as commonplace a decade ago. But they did exist, and anyone who has used one knows that there is no dial tone. Instead you have those bars that tell you if you have a signal. (I hear that a company is now making cell phones that do have dial tones, especially for seniors who are used to such things. But that's the exception, not the rule, people.) How did this one get past the author and the editor?

The next one I know thanks to my son's new passion: Mythbusters. I swear, that show is going to forever ruin all kinds of movies and books for me.

2) Blasting doors and locks open with a gun. Not possible, even with a dead-on aim, and definitely not with one or two shots. Happened at least twice in this book (and a ton of other books and movies).

And finally, one I learned through funky reading material discovered in an article in Writer's Digest that suggested writers go to expert websites to get their facts straight:

3) A character is murdered and his eyes are cut out of his head so the bad guy can use them to get past a retinal scanner. The catch? According to the article, retinal scanners only work on LIVING eyeballs. You can't take one out of a person's head and hold it up to the scanner. (Sorry, Tom Cruise, that part of Minority Report doesn't wash.) Too bad that a good chunk of this book's plot line depends on that particular murder and retinal scanner.

See what I mean? It's getting tougher all the time for me to suspend disbelief. Maybe that's why I'm reading so much fantasy lately.

Sigh . . . sometimes I'd love to be able to just immerse myself in a good yarn again without overthinking it.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Close Friends & Conference Fun

I wish I had a picture of a particular moment at the LDStorymakers Conference. It was one of those times when your worlds collide, although it wasn't traumatic like when George from Seinfeld was at risk of being destroyed when Relationship George collided with Fun George, but it was a funky moment nonetheless.

After a session on Saturday, I walked over to a table to grab my things. Standing beside it were three people.

Jeff Savage, who has been part of my critique group for about six years, joining just a couple of months before my first book, Lost Without You, was accepted for publication. As the first man in our group, he's been a great asset. We finally had a guy to tell us when our men were acting like sissies. Of course, he's also known for his "Well, I really have just one comment," critiques. When you hear that, brace yourself. The "one thing" is probably major. And darn it all, he's usually right.

Here's a picture of Jeff at the Whitney Gala before presenting an award . . . giving a "talk." You can tell that the figures at the bottom are in their "pre-author" life, because they don't yet have their blogs . . . (That talk will go down in Whitney history. It was hysterical.)

Angela Eschler, my beloved editor who has been the one who worked so tirelessly on all five of my books. I'm not a person who deals well with change. Consequently, when she recently left Covenant, I came close to flipping out. (Fortunately, she left me in very good hands. Kirk totally rocks.) Below is critique group gal pal Michele Holmes at the Whitney Gala (left) with the amazing Angela.

And the last person of the trio was Sarah, one of the Babes that Spires is dedicated to. I've known her since the 8th grade when we started our L.M. Montgomery fan club. We were part of a tight-knit group of friends in high school, took creative writing together our senior year, and in college collaborated on a novel. She was the first person to give me honest feedback. As we wrote together, she freely told me when I had suggested something really dumb . . . and when it absolutely worked. The first time I tried writing a book on my own, I panicked; I didn't have Sarah there on my shoulder to guide me.

And we both have way too many things we could blackmail each other about.

Here these three people from very different areas of my life were standing together, chatting. I had to smile.

And then I thought about all the frightening stories they could share with each other about me.

I can picture it now:

Jeff: You should have read that pathetic opening chapter Annette brought to critique last time. I mean, really. Holy lame. Well, okay. The writing was good on a sentence level. Of course there weren't any grammar or punctuation errors. She's the stinkin' grammar police. But the overall arc didn't work. I really just had two comments. But if she takes my advice, she'll be rewriting that chapter for a good month.

Angela: And I bet she used a dozen semicolons. I can't count how many of those I've had to take out of her books, and she argues over every one of them. Touch-y.

Sarah: Just try drafting with her. [shudders] She's such a control freak. But she listened to me, at least most of the time. If she hadn't . . . man, our book would have been a sappy mess.

In all reality, each one of them represent an important part of my life, and I'm grateful for their friendships and the impact each one has had on my life.

As soon as I can get my hands on some of the other photos taken at the conference (since my own camera hung out at the bottom of my bag the entire time), here are a few I do have. If you've been reading other blogs about the conference and Whitney Gala, you may have seen several of them already.

Here I am right before the dinner at the Gala, with my sweet husband at my side:

With Whitney winners Michele Holmes and Heather (H.B.) Moore. All three of us began attending our critique group as unpublished but hopeful writers. It's amazing how far we've come.

Hard to see, but this is right after I read the winner's name for Best Romance/Women's fiction and got to give the award to the very-much deserving Michele. Also pictured is Lisa Mangum of Deseret Book.

Two years of conference "Queens." Heather and I flank Josi Kilpack and Julie Wright, who were the conference chairs for 2007. As the conference wrapped up, they presented us with big boxes of chocolate. They know me so well.

Monday, March 24, 2008

What a weekend!

That about sums it up. I’ll surely post more later (especially some photos), but for now, I had to just express some overall feelings from the experience.

The conference has come and gone. Jeff Savage (or J. Scott Savage, depending on which of his books you’re talking about) is officially crowned as the next conference chair—and is our first conference "king" instead of "queen."

The attendees were enthusiastic, the instructors fantastic, the food yummy, and everything else just great. Meeting editor Tim Travaglini and literary agent Jaime Chilton—and chatting around a table with them late into the evening—was definitely a highlight for me.

I’m so grateful to all the many, many people who helped us put the conference together. It took a small army of dedicated people to do it all. Thanks to all of you; you know who you are!

When the conference wrapped up Saturday, the hard part was over for me, but the Whitney Gala was still ahead. My husband, awesome man that he is, showed up with a dozen roses for me. (How cool is HE?!)

We got to sit at the same table with Whitney Award winners Josi Kilpack, Brandon Mull, and Jessica Day George. (The last two make me officially cool in my daughter’s book.)

I had the opportunity to announce the winner of the Best Romance/Women’s Fiction award alongside Lisa Mangum of Deseret Book. To my absolute delight, my good friend, Michele Paige Holmes took the award. I was supposed to remain neutral, but I’m sure the thrill I felt was plainly obvious in my voice and on my face when I read her name.

I can honestly say that winning an award myself wouldn’t have been any more joyful for me in that moment. I’ve been friends with Michele for many years, and I’ve seen the long, hard road she’s traveled to get where she is. I was so happy for her that I sat back down and promptly began crying.

Tears continued to be a large part of the night for me. Josi’s winning speech got me all choked up too, as did several others. While I’m sure part of my weepiness stemmed from a serious lack of sleep for three days, each and every tear that night was a happy one. Some people came up to me concerned that I was sad over not winning a Whitney myself. Truly, I didn’t expect to win, so I wasn’t disappointed when I didn’t. (I just hoped I’d lose to my other good friend, Heather Moore. And I did!)

But the tears were more than just happiness for good friends. Our table was dead center at the back of the room. As a result, I had a great view of the large crowd that had gathered for the awards. A lot of amazing people were inside those four walls. Some I’d go so far as to call legends.

As the evening wore on, I felt a surging sense of awe and privilege. That night represented the beginning of something very big. And I got to be a small part of it. I even got to be involved a tiny bit in its creation. I was sitting in the middle of a piece of history. The thought was overwhelming. I felt so honored to be in the company of those around me, to bear witness to the birth of something so much bigger than myself, something meaningful, something that I believe Orson F. Whitney himself smiled down upon.

After the 2007 conference, I drove home a bit sad because it was all over for a year.

This time, I drove away feeling uplifted, honored, and overcome. I cried for nearly half an hour as I drove, unable to believe that I . . . little ol' me . . . the gal who scribbled stories about mice in second grade . . . I was there. I am part of this amazing community that began as a simple e-mail support group and has morphed into a powerful force, where some of my dearest friends on the planet belong.

How did I get so lucky?

Like I said, I’ll post more about the conference and the Whitneys later. I’m still trying to finish the "re-entry" process with the family and (with any luck) catch up on some sleep.

And oh yeah—then I have a couple of deadlines to meet, because I get to write and publish books for readers of my faith.

Did I mention that man, I’m one lucky woman?!

(Oops. There go those tears again . . .)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

It's HERE! And I'm Outta Here

Quick post today . . .

I'm doing the headless chicken dance today as I load up the minivan and get the family ready for when I leave this afternoon for the conference, which begins early tomorrow morning with Boot Camp.

As you can imagine, there's a lot to do while the kidlets are at school and before I drive off into the sunset. And when I do leave, I won't be back online until next week.

I'm guessing that a good chunk of my readers won't be checking up on me over the weekend, as they'll be at the conference with me.

However, a lot of Storymaker friends won't be there for one reason or another, and they were lamenting the fact. Some of the Whitney finalists are in that number. They asked, half kidding, half serious, if someone could please text message the results of the Whitney Gala as they happened on Saturday night.

Their wish was the Whitney Committee's command.

So here's the fun news:

Three authors who are attending the Gala (Matthew Buckley, Tristi Pinkston, and Jaime Theler) will be blogging live every step of the way.

If you won't be there, you can follow the awards ceremony online as it unfolds.

Check out the Whitney Awards blog during the Gala to see what's going on and who wins.

The dinner begins at 6:30 pm MDT, followed immediately by the awards ceremony. I imagine the bloggers will get started before that, however. Should be fun!

Following which, I'll be collapsing from an exhausting but (I'm sure) wonderful weekend.

See you on the other side!

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Paddy's Day Scars

As a mother, you try your best to raise your children with love and understanding, shielding them from the darts and arrows of the world.

Invariably, you will fail.

It's just a part of life; you can't shield your kids from everything. Indeed, when it comes down to it, you wouldn't want to shield them from everything, or they'll never learn life lessons. However, no matter how hard you try, you'll end up scarring the little guys in ways you never predicted.

Case in point:

Three years ago, I sent my kindergartener off for another day of school. Off she went, merrily waving to me as she hopped out of the minivan and trotted along the sidewalk into the school.

Two and a half hours later, she came home in tears. In short order, I was informed that it was all my fault.

You see, it was St. Patrick's Day, and I had neglected to be a good mommy. I hadn't sent my little girl to school in green. Apparently, several of the boys in her class thought that fact was great fun and spent the entire school day (thank heavens it was just 1/2-day kindergarten) pinching her. Whether it was at recess, at her desk, or on the carpet when the teacher read stories, all day long, she was pinched.

By the time she got home, the poor girl was traumatized. She fell apart in my arms, relating the horrendous details of her school day.

"Mom, why didn't you make sure I wore green?!"

I've since made a bigger effort on St. Patrick's Day--a holiday I frankly care nothing about. (Today I'm wearing a bright RED shirt . . .) The one and only way I celebrate the day is making sure my kids go off to school with something green. It's probably more of a self-defense measure than anything else.

Today that included my junior high schooler. I had him change his black shirt for a green one. (After all, you never know if those pinching bullies in kindergarten grew up to be junior high schoolers and might decide to pick on a seventh grader who lacks the proper color.)

I even made sure my preschooler had green on today, just in case there was a boy in her class who might try to torture her with the pinching tradition. I certainly didn't want to have another child scarred by the holiday.

So this morning as I'm putting a dot of super glue on a St. Paddy's Day bracelet for my third grader to wear (made with a kit sent by Grandma Lyon for that very purpose), she pipes up with, "Hey, Mom, remember how in kindergarten I didn't wear any green and those boys pinched me all day? Man, that was awful."

Yeah, honey. I remember.

But I was so hoping you didn't anymore!

Oh, well. There's always Easter.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Countdown

It's ten days away for most of those involved, but it's essentially nine days away for me.



I'm referring to the 5th Annual LDStorymakers Writers Conference coming up next week, which Heather Moore and I are co-chairing.

Can I just say that I am eternally grateful that
a) I'm not in this alone and
b) that my partner is so capable and
c) that her strengths lie in all my weak areas?

As some readers may remember, we were "crowned" at last year's conference, so this conference has been twelve months in the making. The last couple have been the most intense, of course, and now it's almost here.

We're dotting i's and crossing t's right now, trying to make sure that there are no lingering ends left untied. (It's amazing just how many ends there are to check . . .)

Between now and then, I have a lot to do, for both the conference as well as for my personal life. For starters, I have to get everything ready for Easter before I drive off to the hotel, because by the time I get back, there will be NO time whatsoever for any of that.

The family is heading up to visit grandma while I'm gone, so I should probably help get little people semi-packed before I leave.

Several of the kids have activities that Mom needs to help prepare for, coordinate, or drive to.

And then there are the ponchos I'm trying to finish knitting for my girls so they can all match on Easter Sunday. (Key word: trying.)

In the middle of all this madness, I did something really stupid: I asked my editor about the status of my latest submission.

If you know anything about the writer's ego, you'll know what a really dumb move that was for a writer who is already under stress. The only possible good outcome would have been a response like, "It's Pulitzer-worthy! We loved it!" Then I'd smile and go my merry way, with a little boost to keep going through the next nine days.

I'm sure you can already see where this is going.

Instead of a declaration that I'm the next big thing, we're discussing revisions and notes.

Really, that's no huge surprise. With Spires of Stone I did two rewrites, went over oodles of notes with my editor (and granted, wanted to bang my head against the monitor numerous times), but ultimately came out the other end not only alive but with a much better book that was accepted for publication and is now up for a Whitney Award.

So why am I such a basket case? That would be because writers seesaw between egomania and self-despair all the time, and are capable of flipping between the two in a matter of seconds. My past publishing experiences with five previous novels notwithstanding, I still feel like the rookie just waiting for that next rejection letter telling me my baby is ugly and that I stink.

I should take a nice, hot bath tonight to help me calm down a bit. That is, if I could sit still long enough without checking e-mail for conference stuff, or going over my workshop presentation notes, or working on the table centerpieces, or sending the latest updates about the waiting list and lunch choices to committee members, or . . .

You get the idea.

Basically, I look like Chicken Little on serious doses of caffeine.

To cope, I bought two of the silver bags of Guittard milk chocolate chips. You know, the jumbo ones? Yeah. That should last me, oh, a day or so.

For those readers who are coming to the conference, I can't wait to see you. Once the big day is here, it'll be downright awesome, and I'm sure I'll be having a ball. I've been in touch with a lot of you, and I can't wait to put faces to names.

In all seriousness, the conference has been a huge shot in the arm for me every time. Last year I drove home a bit wistfully, knowing I wouldn't be able to experience it again for another year. Sure, there would be other conferences, but none are the same as this one. If you've come, you know what I mean.

See you in ten days.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

A Very Serious Interview

Or not.

Some time ago, Luisa was interviewed on her blog with questions provided by a fellow blogging friend and offered to pass along the love.

I raised my cyber-hand (Oooh, oh! Pick me! Pick me!) and she has obliged. Below are her fun questions and my answers.

Thanks, lady!

1. How did you celebrate your first writing sale?
First, some back story: Our first VCR was a hand-me-down from my in-laws. My writing goal for years was to use money I earned through writing to buy a new VCR before that old one bit the dust for good—which could be at any time.

My first couple of writing sales were articles that were clustered together, so I used the money from them to buy a brand new VCR with—oooooh, self-cleaning heads and the ability to mark commercials! (I’m dating myself here . . . DVD players didn’t exist yet . . .)

2. How many writers does it take to change a light bulb? Please explain your answer.

Just one.

But it might take somewhere around 37 light bulbs to get the job done, because she’ll keep changing it, trying to make it just right.

3. You know the advice, "Sometimes you have to kill your darlings." Was there ever a scene or line that it really hurt to cut, but cutting it made the story stronger?

I remember one line in particular that I wanted to use in my first book, but my critique group hated it. I tried putting it somewhere else, because darn it, it was such a good line, but it just didn’t ever feel right. In hindsight, I’m so glad I cut it. It would have been mucho cheesy.

But in general, I tend to have the opposite problem—my critique group and editor generally come back with, “Why didn’t you include this scene? Or this one? Write about [blank].” And I’m always glad when I take their advice; those scenes have often become my favorites. I’ve heard the same thing from readers, who of course, had no idea that their favorite scene wasn’t in the original.

4. Fast food: yea or nay?
Yea if it means I don’t have to cook tonight.

Otherwise nay, especially on date night. Unless I’m in the mood for a strawberry slush from Sonic.

5. Do you have a secret skill that you never get to show off?
I’ve got one weird and useless skill that’s hard to explain in words (anyone coming to the LDStorymakers conference, corner me, and I’ll do it for you). I got it from my mom, and my sisters can do it to: Using nothing but air, you move your lower lip extremely fast in and out, to the point that it's almost a blur. It looks and sounds rather funky.

I can also crinkle my tongue so it looks like a 3-leaf clover.

I know; such an amazing set of talents.

To continue the tradition, if someone would like me to come up with interview questions for them, just raise your cyber hand.

I can promise you'll get them . . . but it won't be until after the LDStorymakers Writers Conference (which is coming up in about 2 weeks . . . holy cow . . .).

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Make—or Wear—a Scene

First off, thanks to everyone who commented and sent me notes of support; I appreciate it more than you know.

I'm doing much better now.

Today I thought I'd mention a fun new product some of my readers might enjoy.

When my brother-in-law Brian was on his mission in Italy, he came across men's ties with artwork on them depicting various events. The idea stuck with him, and now, many years later, he's doing something similar.

Enter Scene Ties, designed by artists with images from the Bible, Book of Mormon, and U. S. History.

Currently, my husband owns this one, which is a pretty, blue-tone number that portrays pioneers crossing the plains. (Pardon the blur; the pictures didn't transfer here all that well):

And my son picked out the one showing Daniel in the lion's den (a play on our last name, I think):

Scene Ties also has ties with the Stripling Warriors, Samuel the Lamanite, and the signing of Declaration of Independence. More of these 100% silk ties are in the works.

So here's the kicker: If you'd like to try one out (or buy one for a gift for the man in your life, or maybe a missionary), check out the web site here.

When you check out, you can get $2 (about 12%) off a tie when you enter this coupon code:


(Note that there are no spaces or punctuation marks.)

They're really pretty ties; I hope you'll check them out!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Ever had a day

that was supposed to be free and open and fun,

but then you got an e-mail that turned it upside down,

and it kept you preoccupied and stressed all day

to the point that you spent hours and hours drafting a reply and coming back to it and rethinking it

and feeling nauseated and near tears over the entire issue

even after you finally get up the guts to hit "send,"

because you know you still didn't say it right,

so instead of getting anything of value accomplished (having fun with the kids who are out of school for the day, squeezing in some work on that freelance job, or, I don't know, making sure the family has clean underwear), your day is sucked into the void of worry

to the point that it's an hour past dinner time when you finally put the lasagna on the table

and although it tastes great, you can't stomach it

or the yummy rolls, either

and your hands tremble

and your head is killing you

and you find yourself snapping at your poor kids for the stupidest things

and they wonder where their mommy went?

Been there too? Oh good.

Because that's what it's been like.

Hoping tomorrow is better.


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