Monday, July 28, 2008

Look How Far I've Come

While my computer-genius hubby-to-be and I were dating, he once tried to explain what the Internet was. I really didn't get it.

You can't blame me; almost no one understood it back then, and the only people I knew who owned e-mail addresses were computer software students like my fiance.

Why in the world would I ever need to go online or have an e-mail address?

(That sentence now is pretty laughable. Hahaahaaaa! The internet is almost another appendage for me now.)

Honey sat me down in a BYU computer science lab and found a site across the ocean in Finland (he knew I had ties there, of course), and we looked up something on it. It kind of blew my mind that this computer was talking to one on another continent. (Okay, so that concept still blows my mind.) The process took a lot longer than it would today, since it consisted of that "beep-beep-beep-beep-WAAAAAH!" of dial-up.

"You can find almost anything on the Internet," honey told me. (How much truer that is today!)

"Like what?" I asked.

"Like . . . anything," he said.

"Like what?" I pressed, figuring he meant things that only scientists would understand or care about .

"Give me something to look up."

I still didn't get it, but I tried to do my part. "Okay. How about L. M. Montgomery."

(I know how shocked you all are that she's the first thing that popped into my head.)

What we found exactly, I don't remember, but I do recall seeing it and going, "Oh! I get it! So you can look up stuff! Cool!"

What can I say? I'm a slow learner.

I've since gone on to be very comfortable online. Probably too comfortable, judging by how much time I spend there. I've done research, "met" people via blogging, and found great writing support, among many, many other things. (Like avoiding holiday crowds. Yay for online shopping!)

Once, some time ago, hubby and I instant messaged while he was at work, and he was mighty impressed when I used an acronym like LOL. Yes, his wife had learned a few things. But it didn't stop there. Oh, no.

A few weeks ago I bought a jumbo box of Bagel Bites from Costco. (Okay, so I know they're atrocious health-wise. But it was part of maintaining my summer sanity. Deal with it.) The freezer was a bit too full, so I took the packets out of the box to help squeeze it all in so the door would close.

Usually when I do this, I make sure to rip off the heating instructions from the box or at least make a note with a Sharpie on how hot and how long to bake something. This time I neglected to do either. Whoops.

When I went to cook up a batch some time later, I grimaced. Dang. No instructions. I could probably guess, but I'm not the sharpest knife of the chef's drawer, and I didn't want to mess it up.

The solution came to me almost immediately.

I bet I can find the instructions online.

Seconds later, I was at my computer, searching for "Bagel Bites heating instructions."

Of course I found them.

I'm sure back in the Stone Age when we were dating, they wouldn't have been there. But searching online for such a thing wouldn't have crossed my mind, either.

The Internet and I . . . we've both come a long way, baby.

Scary when I'm relying on it for how long to cook dinner.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

We Heart Seinfeld

Apparently, I'm making unexpected progress in my efforts to raise children who are aware of cultural references and appreciate many of the same things I do.

I've mentioned my efforts here, here, and most recently, here.

Up to this point, I've focused primarily on movies, but apparently, my influence has rubbed off in other areas.

As evidenced by #4. The other day, she looked at her older sister, wagged her chubby little finger, and declared,

"No soup for you!"

Then she giggled uproariously.

I think this is a good thing.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Research Is Fun Again

For years, I've been writing historical fiction and loving it. I even enjoy the research end. I've learned some of the coolest things along the way, most of which will never make it into any book, but that's okay, because I love to learn.

At times, however, historical research can be frustrating, such as when you can't find a detail you need and have to rewrite a scene so you don't need that detail anymore. Or when the facts you need are so specific that even though you do your homework, you still mess it up and need an expert to clean up the mess.

One big issue with historical writing is that any time someone moves from one place to another and they aren't on foot, there's a very good chance that an animal is involved, whether your characters are riding on a horse, in a wagon, or whatever.

Problem: I don't know animals.

I don't even particularly like them, unless they meow and curl up at my feet. I took horseback riding lessons as a kid, but it didn't cure me; I'm still terrified of horses. Last winter, I wanted to scream and bang my head against a wall because of all my book's horse issues.

To be honest, I'm a little scared to start the editing process on Tower of Strength (which should begin soon), because the horse stuff was so traumatizing.

But my current work in progress is totally different than anything I've written in years. For starters, it's a contemporary novel.

That means, yep, it's happening in today's world. Where there are cars. And cell phones. And jeans. And microwaves. And DVDs and TiVos. And computers.

I cannot tell you what a breath of fresh air it has been to write a scene without having to double-check my OED for whether a certain word was really in the vernacular in 1875. Or to have a character put the key into the ignition and start her car . . . then drive hundreds of miles within hours. To have characters use cell phones. Sing along to a CD. Instant message on the computer.

Yes! I can use technology!

Instead of learning about historical events, locales, food, clothing design, colloquial expressions, and so on, my research thus far has included picking friends' brains left and right.

Instead of looking up what plays might have been performed in the Salt Lake City Theater in the mid-1860s, I go to IMDB to check how many seasons Lost has been on the air.

I don't worry about visiting the locales and taking notes, because I can come up with where each scene is set, and they can be anywhere I've already been. I'm even using houses and restaurants I'm familiar with.

When I put hairstyles and clothing on my characters, I know with certainty that I'm not off by ten years on fashion trends.

It's a pure delight!

I'll likely delve into historical writing again at some point, because I truly love writing in that genre. But man, after immersing myself into the past for four novels and at least that many years, I'm having a ball with something just a bit different.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Debate Continues

There’s an interesting discussion circulating in parts of the LDS-literary blog world:

What is the definition of "LDS fiction"?

Here are my two cents on the issue.

A lot of people say that LDS fiction is simply work that upholds LDS values. With that definition, Peace Like a River by Lief Enger would be LDS fiction, but (great book that it is) no one could really argue that it belongs under that designation.

Others say the LDS fiction must have Mormon characters or plot lines. It can, but doesn’t have to. I can think of several titles that I’d consider LDS fiction that don’t mention or even hint at the Church.

There’s the argument that LDS fiction has two criteria: that it’s by LDS writers AND maintains the basic values of the Church. Perhaps. That might be a good goal to shoot for. But in my mind, the reality isn’t there.

Personally, for my own writing and reading of LDS fiction, I stand with the crowd of wanting LDS fiction to be "virtuous, lovely, of good report and praiseworthy," high-quality literature that doesn't resort to the baseness that a lot of national stuff does.

That’s pretty much the standard that the big LDS houses like Deseret Book and Covenant try to uphold, even if, at times, their conservative pendulum tends to swing a bit hard right.

But what do you do with more liberal LDS presses like Signature and Zarahemla? Those are run by LDS people, and they publish writers who feel driven to write something that, for whatever reason, might be more offensive or who otherwise don’t fit the DB/Covenant mold.

Granted, their books are largely aimed at the left side of Mormon-dom, but can we deny their existence if we don’t approve of what they publish? Who are we to judge?

While I personally don’t read their more liberal publications that don't maintain my values, there is a segment of LDS people that does gravitate there and enjoys the fare offered.

I have a hard time telling those writers and publishers that they shouldn't be creating what they feel driven to. That’s not my place.

Telling them that they’re wrong to write or publish what they do strikes me as a bad thing, and not only in a free speech kind of way. It also smacks of the very kind of judgment I don’t feel that I, as a Christian, should be making about other people and the way they conduct their lives and, by extension, their art.

It could also be because I feel passionately about my own work and would bristle if someone told me that I was wrong or immoral to write what I do. I’m sure people have been offended by my work (even though it’s published by very-conservative Covenant Communications). In fact, I know for a fact that one scene has offended at least one person. (And for those of you who’ve read all my work, I’m betting it’s not one you’re thinking of.)

I’d hate to think that any reader would vilify me for writing that or any other scene. I write my stories how I think they should be.

When I think of "LDS fiction," I personally do think about the cleaner, values-centered writing that most people picture when they hear that term. And I hope that we as a people will not only improve our game from a literary standpoint, but that we’ll do so while upholding high moral standards.

But . . .

Maybe what we are trying to encapsulate by the term, "LDS fiction" should be called something else altogether.

Why? Because I, for one, don’t feel like I can point fingers at someone who is LDS, writing about LDS themes and characters for an LDS audience and tell them that they can’t call what they do "LDS fiction"—that they can’t be part of the club—because I think their work is offensive. What if I came across a book I despised and thought was immoral? It still wouldn't be my place to say it’s not LDS fiction, not when it’s saturated with LDS-ness.

What I can do is say what I’d like about the fiction currently on shelves. I can support books by Mormon writers who I think exemplify what our fiction can be. I can say what I hope it will be in the future and do whatever I can to support the market and the writers (and aspiring writers) in it.

But I personally can’t rip the "LDS fiction" label off someone else just because I don’t like the way it looks on them.

So what’s the answer? Call the more liberal works something else? Call the more conservative books by another term? Something else altogether? I have no idea. But I have a feeling the debate won’t go away any time soon.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I Needed That

Today I had a much-needed lunch with a dear friend whom I've known since eighth grade (and who has gone by the nickname "J. J.-Panda" since then for reasons I don't recall. I've referred to her before, such as in this post).

Among the many subjects covered in the two hours we chatted over our Training Table sandwiches (oooh, yum . . .) was what's happened to some of our high school friends. One is a professional opera singer. A very, very good one, I might add.

We reminisced about how the two of them sang a duet at the end of one of our choir concerts and how amazing it was. (I swear, she's one of the best sopranos I've ever heard.) It gave me goosebumps, and the rest of the audience, too, judging by the much-deserved standing ovation.

And then she said something that took me totally off-guard: how proud she was of some of those friends for what they've made of themselves with their talents . . . including me.

I snorted. Probably rolled my eyes.

I mean, sure, I've several published books, and that's a big accomplishment. I won't pooh-pooh that.

But I'm no Stephenie Meyer. My husband wishes for the day he could retire and we could live on my royalties (never gonna happen, at least with what I sell). The number of readers I have is microscopic when compared to even moderately successful authors outside this market.

She stopped me cold. "Don't underestimate what you do," she told me. "Really."

And she went on, describing how needed the kind of thing is that I write. How there are thousands of women out there, just needing a break from life, something that takes them away from their stresses for awhile and reaffirms their faith. And then they remember that they bought a book by me, and they crack it open, and it brings them relief and confirmations of their testimonies.

She teared up, and I did, too. But I shook my head, waving her words away.

"No, really. That's been me with your books," she insisted. "And I'm sure lots of other women." She described how one of my books had made its way into the hands of a sweet woman she knew across the country—someone not LDS—who then gave it to another friend. "You don't know how your books are spreading and who they're going to touch. It's important, what you do."

I have to admit that there are lots of times I've wondered if there's a point to it all. I mean, sure, I get some fulfillment out of it. But really, what kind of drop in the literary pond are my books? This can be a rather discouraging market on several fronts, and it's easy to get buried in those many, varied issues.

I believe there's a reason I went to lunch with J. J.-Panda today. There's also a reason she's one of my dearest friends ever. I needed to hear her words, to have her bolster me and lift me up.

On a slightly different note—but one that dovetails with some of those LDS-market issues—I was sent this link today by Josi.

I'm ridiculously emotional today, apparently, because even though it's not a serious or poignant post, it almost made me cry because of the subject matter.

In short, it's about one of the many brick walls we LDS novelists find ourselves smacking our heads against all the time. What a delight to find someone who has taken down her wall and given us a chance.

I have no delusions that this particular brick wall (or all the other LDS book-market issues) will go away anytime soon, but today I'm feeling a bit more optimistic.

And I'm remembering that even if there are just a few readers out there that I've touched, made smile, or bettered a day for through telling a story, then my work does have a purpose.

That's not to say I wouldn't love to have an advance a fraction of the size Meyer gets. (It would be nice to, oh, pay off the house or something . . .)

But I'll try to be more content with where I am, because maybe there really is a reason that I'm here. For J. J.-Panda, at least. Thanks, babe. I needed that.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Distractions

We went miniature golfing today. Kids had a blast (and treats). So as afternoon waned, I didn't feel too guilty heading for the computer to get in my word count.

After a good fifteen minutes of #2 trying to do everything in her power to keep me from writing, the following conversation ensued:

Mom: Cutie, I really need to get 1,100 words in today, and it's getting late.

#2: Do it tomorrow.

Mom: Then I'd have to do twice as many. If I do a little today and a little tomorrow, I'll make my weekly goal.

#2: I could totally do that many words in a day.

Mom: Maybe, but I don't have a whole day. Hey, if you go read a book or something, I could get it done in about an hour, and then you can come with me to the store.

[#2 Scoots me over and sits down in my chair.]

#2: I can write that many words really fast.

Mom: Oh?

#2: Watch this.

[#2 types the following:]

a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a

#2 (giggling with all her might when Mom raises her eyebrows): What? That's a word!

I suppose I should have been more specific. I need to write 1,100 words of a novel. In my work in progress. In a story. That make sense. That readers will want to actually plunk down money for.

The little stinker is getting too smart for her own good. But boy, is she a delight.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tag: A Closer Look Meme

I can thank (?) Tristi for tagging me on this um . . . delightful . . . meme. :)

Here we go:

1) My kitchen sink



Amazingly enough, when I went around taking these pictures, the sink was empty. Shocker. It obviously could use a good scrubbing, but hey, no complaints. Having it this clean isn't the norm.

2) The inside of my fridge:


Like Josi, I'm a milk snob. My kids are so used to the natural, hormone-free stuff that they will not drink the store-bought gunk if we run out before milk day. Good thing we only go through about 2 gallons a week. I love the stainless steel, even if it gets covered with kiddie fingerprints a bit too easily.

3) My favorite shoes:


I'm not much of a shoe person, really, but I've the most extraordinary luck at D.I. Seriously, it's scary the things I've found there. I got all three of these pairs there, for somewhere around four bucks a pop. How lucky am I?! I KNOW! I adore the black ankle boots on the bottom right and wear them a ton at author events. The other two pairs are way cute, but you really need the right outfit to pull them off, so I don't wear them that often.

4) My closet:

I've never had such a great closet before, not in the two apartments, small house, and then townhouse we lived in before. It's a walk-in, and this is my side of it. Not the most organized, but hey, it's got room, and I love it.

5) The laundry pile:

Not too bad today. The basket on the right is even empty. Be impressed.

6) What my kids are doing right now and

7) My favorite room:


Actually, this is my second favorite room, because my new office just earned the "favorite" title. But I'm not posting that here; it deserves its own post! So here's our great room, somewhat cluttered, right before dinner. This is the thing that sold me on this floor plan in the first place: it's big, it's roomy, and there's lots of gathering space for the family. And I got my dream cupboards. Aren't they gorgeous?! The kids are at the table waiting for me to stop snapping pictures so they can eat already.

The blinds are all closed, because when they're open, there's too much glare for a picture. There's a stray "Happy Birthday" balloon at the top of the cupboards. Ignore that. But take a look at the left side. See that rocking chair (yeah, the thing with the skee-wampus cushion)? That's the same rocking chair I was rocked in as a baby, and I rocked all of mine in it too.

8) My most recent purchase:

I'm assuming this doesn't mean shampoo and apples at the grocery store. This is the runner rug in my new office. (I promise, I promise. More pictures forthcoming in their own post!) I think the rug is bea-u-ti-ful. And it was even on sale. Boo-yah.


9) My fantasy vacation:
I actually have two. In college, I wanted, oh so bad, to go on BYU's London semester abroad. But alas, I didn't get to walk where the Brontes walked or see the Globe Theater or any of that stuff.


The other is (no surprise to my long-time readers) a trip through LM Montgomery-land, including her homes in Norval, Leaskdale, and Toronto where she did most of her writing. (This is the Leaskdale manse where she lived for several years.)


10) Self-portrait:


Scary. I have no words.

As for the tagging:

Don, because I haven't seen a guy do this one yet.

And Jenna, because I want to see her pictures.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Farworld Book Winner

As promised, today I get to give away an Advance Reader Copy of J. Scott Savage's Farworld: Water Keep, which is coming out in September.

A moment ago, I printed out all the names of the commenters on the last post, folded them up, and threw them in a bowl. My girls fought over who got to pick the name out, but eventually peace reigned, and we have a winner:

Congratulations to PIANOPLAYER!

Hope you enjoy it!

Be sure to e-mail me your mailing address (annette at annettelyon dot com) right away so I can pass it along to the powers that be. (If I don't hear from you by Wednesday, I'll draw another name.)

Now for a couple of random things:

1) Children have a way of making everything new again. On the Fourth of July evening as we lit fireworks with some cousins, I sat in a chair like the old person I'm feeling like. My youngest came up beside me and leaned in, gazing at the fountain of sparks. "Oh, Mommy," she said. "It's beautiful." And she was right. I've seen street fireworks so many times (and usually spend the time worrying because hubby and his brothers are pyros--their definition of a "good" firework is one that is nothing but ashes when you're done with it, so they pimp out the ones from the store). It took my little girl pointing out a simple beauty for me to notice it.

2) I'm trying to decide whether to work on my WIP right now or be lazy and watch my NetFlix DVD that's been sitting around the house for WAY too long. I'm a bit achy and tired today, so the movie (an old classic that I haven't watched in ages) is sounding really good about now. I'll probably watch it, even if I end up folding laundry while I do it to assuage any guilt for not getting anything else done.

3) Coming soon: The "A Closer Look" Meme that Tristi tagged me for. I have all the pictures now but haven't gotten them onto the computer yet. Scary meme.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

What You Don't Know: J. Scott Savage

My first contact with J. Scott Savage was when I was the chapter president of the Utah Valley Chapter of the League of Utah Writers. I found his contact information in the back of his first book and e-mailed, asking him to speak at the January meeting. He agreed.

A few weeks before the meeting, he came to our critique group's annual Christmas dinner as our newest member, and that's when I first met him. (At Brick Oven. How could I ever forget? Yum . . . .)

That was six and a half years ago, if I'm doing the math right. (I was expecting #4 then, and it was right before my first book was accepted. Yep.) He was a bit of a turkey when it came time for him to speak. I sent a confirmation e-mail to him, and he replied with something snarky like, "What? Was that THIS week? I totally forgot. . . . Just kidding."

I knew right then that he was a goofball, or, er, a riot to get to know.

It's been great having him in the same critique group (especially as the first male, someone to tell us when our male characters were acting, um, less than manly).

Today I get to have fun mentioning his latest publishing achievement, his upcoming book, Farworld: Water Keep, the first in a young adult fantasy series. The book will be on shelves in September, a mere two months away.

Since I agreed to be part of his cool blog tour before I hopped aboard the Whitney Committee and could no longer review 2008 books or publicly mention my opinion of them, I'll keep mum on what I think of the book itself.

Never fear; there are plenty of places you can learn about the book, as his blog tour is going for two months and is quite extensive. You'll be able to find great question-and-answer sessions, reviews of Farworld, and more all over the blogosphere.

However . . . since I can't review the book, I thought I'd have some fun. So . . . this may be the only place you get to find out about the real J. Scott. Here are six little-known facts I've learned about him in the six and a half years I've known him. I picked six because it's a fun number and not too big. I could have gone with twenty-six and had plenty to say. I've got a lot of dirt, but I decided not to mention the . . . oh, wait. :D

1) He enjoys being an anomaly.
For example, he finds it great fun to be the only bass in the room singing, "As Sisters in Zion" at Relief Society Literacy nights.

2) He's observant.
At last year's critique group Christmas dinner, he gave one member a miniature (toy) vacuum that actually sucked . . . that plugs into the computer. I think he knows we women ("The Ladies of Wednesday Night," as he so lovingly refers to us) do a balancing act between housewife and writer.

3) His biological clock is seriously messed up.
The poor man travels so much, my head spins. More than once as we're getting RSVP e-mails about meeting, he'll send a last-minute message along the lines of, "I was supposed to be flying in to SLC tonight, but there was an emergency in [Georgia, Las Vegas, LA, fill in the blank] so I'm headed there right now. Sorry; I won't make it tonight." Forget his biological clock; I bet that half the time even he doesn't know what time zone he's in.

4) Disneyland has played a part in his writing.
On a couple of counts. First, he once wrote a scene as an exercise of how to take a normal, happy situation and make it scary and creepy . . . using the "It's a Small World" ride. (Last time I rode it, my girls loved it, but I kept waiting for doll arms to reach up out of the water and kill me. Yeah. Thanks, dude.)

Second, since his sweet wife, Jen, adores the park, his family goes there a lot. On something like their third trip of the year, he once spent the day at Disneyland, writing, while his family played.

Talk about a writer's happiest place on Earth . . .

5) He feeds his friends.
Or maybe it's Jen who does it. Regardless, whenever he hosts critique group, there will be chips and salsa on the table. A good thing, too, because I often skip dinner as I race out the door. Therefore, most of the chips and salsa end up being eaten by me. Yeah, I know. Oink. (Oops. I think I just revealed more about me than I did about him.)

6) He gives the dreaded, "It's great . . . just two things," critiques.
Those two things are often something like, "I totally didn't buy the premise of the scene" or "The main character's motivation for doing any of this fell flat" or "It's just boring." Dang it all if he isn't right 95% of the time, but fixing his "two things" requires hours and hours.

(And he complains because I write all over his manuscripts. Sure I do, but adding commas and deleting adverbs doesn't take nearly as long as rewriting an entire scene . . .)


There you have it; six things I bet many people don't know about J. Scott Savage. But here's one more you may have figured out: He's a great friend who is willing to help out any way he can. That's something rare and valuable. I consider myself lucky to be one of the Ladies of Wednesday night.

Now for the (other) fun part: One of my blog readers will get an Advance Reader Copy of Farworld: Water!

To enter the drawing, simply make a comment on this post by midnight (MDT) on Sunday, July 6, 2008. I'll put all the names into a hat and have a small child draw the winner. I'll announce the winner here the next day, on Monday, July 7.

If the winner doesn't don't contact me with their mailing address within two days, we'll draw another name. Good luck!